Historically, mothers were given custody of children in divorce cases unless there was a compelling reason to the contrary. It was considered to be in the best interest of the child and the father was given reasonable visitation that usually meant every other weekend, alternate holidays, and part of the summer.
As fathers demanded more and more rights to visitation, the shared custody agreement became an attractive choice. It allowed both parents equal access to the child and to be a major part of the activities of their life.
Many of these agreements worked well but there was usually a stipulation that the primary custodial parent could not move from the area without permission of the court. The reason for granting such permission was that it was in the best interest of the child. This brought up the question of what was in the best interest of the child. Was more money? If so, how much more. Was the remarriage of the parent? Or maybe a promotion and further opportunity for advancement would reach the threshold. Judges were back to square one and the non-custodial parent and the child, who were used to an open and close relationship, were thrown back into the throws of the divorce situation. The arguments could go on and on.
This situation, combined with advancements in technology has led to an increased number of divorce petitions and agreements that provide Internet or Virtual Visitation. This is better spelled out in the initial agreement rather than being a remedial action because most children will be geographically separated from a parent at some time.
For the non-custodial parent, Virtual Visitation provides a means of keeping close to their child and sharing their important moments. Also, the ability to have visual as well as auditory contact on a regular basis removes the feeling of strangeness between the parties when they are together. The parent can see the first loose tooth or that amazing gap with a tiny tongue poking through and they have the peace of mind of seeing that the child is being well cared for and is happy. They can read them a story, help with homework, show off a new hairdo or anything else that is of current interest and pertinent to either.
The custodial parent does not usually offer the option of Virtual Visitation but the non-custodial parent’s attorney is remiss if he does not get it into the language of the final legal documents. In some cases, judges in states where it has become prevalent have come to expect it or even to suggest it. In Florida, the new child custody statute that was effective on October 6, 2008 provides a suggestion that technology should be used to promote contact with both parents.
As a consequence both parents should be educated in what the term really means and what the possible advantages and consequences may be. While close family and shared custody agreements are ideal, there are increasingly more children who are separated from one of their parents and are candidates for this type of parenting. These children can find the separation emotionally and psychologically damaging. In these cases, Webcams and Internet Service are being used in an effort allow non-custodial parents to develop a closer relationship with their children. They can spend more quality time together on a consistent basis. The one draw back that is mentioned by judges and critics of the program is that it should never get so comfortable that it takes the place of actual physical visitation. Personal physical visitation should occur whenever possible. A camera cannot replace a hug, a kiss, or a stroke of the hair.
The divorce decree can outline the days and times on which Virtual Visitation will take place and the acceptable technology including provisions for purchasing and maintaining it. A distance of 100 miles or more is a reasonable distance for Virtual Visitation to be requested and advantageous to the children. Virtual visitation by internet video allows for visits during the daylight hours of rotating weekends. The parent who creates the geographical barrier to visitation is should normally be held responsible for purchasing and maintaining the equipment necessary for both parents. This may include a computer, monitor, Webcam, earphones, and adequate Internet service but depends on the financial circumstances of the parties.. Adequate service may be spelled out as a minimum of DSL or cable-internet service.
When hammering out the divorce or separation agreement the matter of Virtual Visitation should be included because while it may not be needed at that point, it is better to know what the parameters will be if it is needed in the future.
In addition to Florida, many states already have guidelines developed for Virtual Visitation and it is an accepted part of working out the controlling divorce or separation agreements. For those states who don’t, it is only a matter of time.