Times have changed and technology has made great strides in bringing people closer together. The COVID-19 emergency has added a new wrinkle to things like custody and visitation. The lockdown imposed restrictions on parental visitations, and some parents found that alternatives like FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom made visitation easier to arrange. Now that things have relaxed, both parents and children are wondering if virtual visitation can still be part of their routine.
Virtual Visitation: What It Is and Is Not
Courts, pediatricians, and parents would all agree that visiting with a parent on a screen is no replacement for visiting a parent in real life. At the same time, everyone would agree that it is better for a child to spend time with a parent on a screen than not to spend any time with the parent at all. Recently deployed soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq found that virtual time with their families was a lifeline to home and reality.
In situations where a parent cannot be physically present with the child, virtual visitation may be requested and ordered by the court. For instance, if one parent’s job takes them out of the city or state for extended periods, they should be granted virtual time with the child as much as reasonably possible.
Virtual visitation should not be used as a total replacement for physical visitation unless circumstances require it. If one parent is deployed in a military capacity or is incarcerated out of state, it may be the only realistic option.
How to Arrange Virtual Visitation
If the judge and parties agree to virtual visitations, they should be arranged in a way that is most convenient for the child and the parent who is visiting. Some things you should keep in mind if you are requesting a virtual visitation:
- Privacy. The communication between the parent and child should be conducted in a separate room if possible. Unless the parties agree that both parents may be present, this is the private time between the child and the visiting parent.
- Bandwidth. Just as a bad connection ruins a Zoom meeting, it will wreck visitation. Parents need to coordinate to ensure that there will be adequate WiFi on both sides of the connection.
- Time. The purpose of the visit is for the parent and child to have some family bonding time. It needs to be scheduled at an appropriate time for both the parent and the child. If the parent is going to help the child do their homework, then it needs to be set for that time. It should not be scheduled when the parent knows they have an appointment or just before the child’s soccer practice.
- Duration. Remember that even though this is part of the non-custodial parent’s visitation, the child is still sitting in front of a screen. It needs to be balanced with the child’s other screen times so that they are not sitting in front of a computer too many hours a day.
Can I Add Virtual Visitation to My Current Parenting Plan?
During the COVID emergency, many parents found themselves forced to use virtual visitation and other means to creatively get around the executive orders of the government, which insisted that all custody orders, including parenting plans, must remain in place despite the lockdown.
Now that the emergency has eased, parents may be wondering if they can have virtual visitation included in their existing plan. The answer is, “maybe.” To modify a parenting plan, parents must make a showing of a “substantial change of circumstances,” and since the COVID situation has declined, the circumstances have returned mostly to normal.
If you and your ex-spouse wish to continue allowing your child to communicate virtually, of course, you may do so. If you believe you have a situation where changing your plan to allow your child a day of virtual visitation over a day of physical visitation is an advantage for the child, then you should consult an attorney. For instance, perhaps your child was going to your ex-spouse’s one day a week after school, and now that they are older, need an extra day at home for homework. Virtual visitation could let your child stay home while keeping the spouse’s visitation.
How We Can Help
If you have questions about virtual visitation, whether you want to include it in your divorce decree or want to modify your existing plan, contact the Atlanta child custody and visitation lawyers of Kessler & Solomiany, LLC at (404) 688-8810 and let us see what we can do for you. Our team has been practicing family law for three decades in the Atlanta area, and we are familiar with the changing needs of families post-divorce. Call us for your consultation today.