In a child custody context, virtual visitation refers to the right of a non-custodial parent to communicate with their child using electronic technology. Virtual visitation is also known as “e-visitation” or “e-access,” and usually refers to using a real-time video or webcams to facilitate visitation. E-visitation can also include the use of other electronic communications, such as e-mails, text or instant messages, and telephone conferences.

Virtual visitation is quickly becoming an acceptable form of visitation. However, it is designed to supplement rather than replace actual physical custody of the child. It can be a great option when the parents are separated by long distances, or where the child needs additional support.

Which Illinois Laws Cover Virtual Visitation Rules?

These are covered in Sections 607 and 609 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. The Act defines electronic communication as the time a parent spends with their child through the use of communication tools including the internet, e-mail, and other forms of communication. According to Act, electronic communication between child and parent is subject to the following limitations:

  • The availability of non-availability of electronic communication is not allowed to be a factor when a court is determining whether a child may be removed by the custodial parent out of state
  • The court itself will determine under what times and circumstances e-visitation is appropriate

Thus, a court has discretion over when to award virtual visitation rights. This form of visitation will not be awarded when it is not in the child’s best interest. Also, virtual visitation is not allowed if the non-custodial parent has a history of abuse or if there are issues with the child’s personal privacy. 

What Other States Allow Virtual Visitation?

Virtual visitation is not on the books in every state. In addition to Illinois, e-visitation laws were pioneered in Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. As of 2009, 22 other states have already initiated legislation which would allow for e-visitation.

How Do I Obtain Rights to Virtual Visitation?

The first step is asking the judge at the child custody hearing whether virtual visitation is available. The judge will examine all the relevant factors and determine whether virtual visitation is appropriate. In general, any contact is better than none, so it is always best to raise the issue of virtual visitation.

If someone already has an existing visitation schedule, they can always ask the judge to modify the visitation order to allow time for virtual visitation. Virtual visitation rights are not automatically granted, so it is important to take affirmative steps.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

Child custody and visitation issues are important and can have significant impacts on your child’s future. If you need assistance with visitation rights in Illinois, you should contact a Illinois child visitation attorney immediately. An attorney can help provide you with sound legal advice and representation if necessary and determine whether e-visitation is appropriate for your particular situation.