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Visitation and child custody cases are rarely easy, and oftentimes the solutions proposed are not very equitable to both parents. Also, a parental separation can lead to the noncustodial parent living far enough away from the custodial parent that in-person visitation may not always be practical. For non-custodial parents who fall under this category, virtual visitation can be a unique solution to supplementing in-person visitation for noncustodial parents to stay connected with their children.
It’s to no one’s surprise that children in this day and age have more access to technology and are becoming increasingly more comfortable with using social media and other video chatting functions as a primary form of communication. So, what is stopping parents from connecting with their children through this medium or platform instead?
While there isn’t any statute in New York on virtual visitation, some judges have begun to encourage this unique option to parents so they can stay better connected with their children’s life.
When parents or clients usually hear about virtual visitation, many of them strictly think of it as a phone call or text message. While these are ways for noncustodial parents to stay connected with their children, there are many more ways that they can engage with their child and maintain their parental bond without being able to have consistent in-person visitation.
In recent years—and only furthered by the pandemic—there have been many technological developments when it comes to video communications through FaceTime, Discord, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and many others. Almost all devices these days have cameras meaning that a non-custodial parent could watch their son or daughter’s soccer game through their smartphone while also helping them with their homework later. This level of flexibility allows for parents and their children to work around any barriers to connection that distance may bring.
Given the popularity of this type of communication, several states have already passed virtual visitation laws. Even those that do not have any in place—like New York—are allowing judges to grant virtual visitation and include it into any parenting plans.
This is excellent news for non-custodial parents who wish to remain a part of their child’s life. However, virtual visitation will not fully replace a parent or child’s yearning for traditional visitation. Even if the noncustodial parent can only visit their children once a year, virtual visitation can provide a supplement when in-person visitation is not always practical. Furthermore, not all forms of virtual communication are the same. With the increased focus on privacy online, many virtual connections are instantly deleted once the call ends. That ability to replay a connection might be helpful to a child to remind them of their contact with their mom or dad.
Usually, before recommending virtual visitation I like to discuss the best practices for it with my clients and walk them through any pitfalls that may hamper their connection with their children. The first thing I advise any parent when they are considering virtual visitation is that it is important to think of age-appropriate things to do with children apart from just a conversation. Children can have varying attention spans and may not be the best with conversation, nor should they be expected to be. So, planning ahead with some entertainment ideas might be a great way to keep their attention and prevent them from getting bored. Things like readings books together on an iPad, laptop, or smart phone, playing games together through any gaming device, watching TV shows or movies, or using an app that allows coloring are a few ways I have seen parents successfully connect with their children. In addition, having shorter and more frequent communication with your children might be better than a longer or more monotonous phone call.
While there are many more tips out there, those are a few of the most common I give to separated parents who may be considering virtual visitation. In a post-COVID world, there are many different factors that may prevent parents from seeing one another, and with the holiday season coming up, establishing a system of virtual visitation now could be the difference in maintaining and nurturing a real and present connection with your children.
Ryan McCall is an Associate in Tully Rinckey PLLC’s Albany office and has a background in family and matrimonial law, where he has first chair experience with grandparent’s rights cases and representing victims of domestic violence in matrimonial, custody and family offense cases. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (518) 218-7100.