During a divorce or child custody proceeding, a court will usually grant the non-custodial parent visitation rights over their child. In general, child visitation rights are a form of parental rights that enable a noncustodial parent to spend time with their child. The time they spend with their child must be scheduled in advance and approved by a court order.

Similar to child visitation rights, virtual child visitation is a new type of parental right that allows a noncustodial parent to “visit” their child through virtual channels. In general, virtual visitations require a noncustodial parent to use some kind of technology to communicate with their child when they are not able to visit them in person. For instance, if the custodial parent moves to a new city or state with their child.

Virtual visitation, also known as e-access or e-visitation, can be accomplished using video chat applications, such as Zoom or Skype. Some other technologies that a noncustodial parent may utilize to virtually visit their child include the following:

  • Using instant messaging systems via different social media platforms;
  • Communicating by email or through text messages; and
  • Calling them on a landline or a cellphone.

Since the global pandemic, virtual visitation is rapidly becoming a popular option for parents to negotiate for in child custody and child visitation proceedings. Not only does virtual visitation allow noncustodial parents to maintain frequent contact with their children, but it offers a huge benefit to parents who are separated and live in or want to relocate to another state. Virtual visitation offers separated parents a partial solution to the physical visitation issue.

Another benefit that virtual visitations can provide is that it can be used to prevent or avoid future disputes from occurring between parents who do not get along with one another, while still making it possible for a child to spend time “visiting” with a noncustodial parent. Additionally, if any issues should arise in the future, emails, text messages, and other virtual methods offer an easy way to preserve evidence of interactions between a child and a parent.

Finally, if a court does grant a noncustodial parent virtual visitation rights over their child, the custodial parent will be required to give the noncustodial parent their child’s virtual contact information like their screen name or email address. The parents must notify one another in the event that any of their child’s contact information should change. Both parents must also agree to respect each other’s privacy in regard to such communications.

In addition, a custodial parent is not permitted to interfere with virtual visitation sessions between the noncustodial parent and their child. If a need should arise, the parents should email one another as to when a new time for a virtual visit must be scheduled.

In some cases, a court may even prescribe exact times or general time slots as to when it may be appropriate to schedule a virtual visitation session. This helps to establish boundaries between all parties involved in the arrangement.

When is Virtual Visitation an Option, and When is it Not?

The best way to find out if the option of virtual child visitation is available to a parent or not is by reviewing the state laws that are pertinent to this specific issue. In searching for the relevant laws, it is important to keep in mind that not every state recognizes this form of child visitation yet. If the laws in a parent’s state are unclear, then they should consider consulting a local family law attorney for further legal advice.

Alternatively, a parent may also ask the judge who is presiding over their child custody case if they would consider granting them virtual visitation rights as an option, and if so, to include it as part of their child visitation schedule. It should be noted that this may require hiring a lawyer to either draft such an agreement or to request that a parent’s current child custody or visitation order be modified by the court.

Some states that have already passed laws that permit the family law courts in their respective states to issue orders that allow for virtual visitations in child custody proceedings include the following:

  • Utah;
  • Texas;
  • Florida;
  • Illinois;
  • Wisconsin; and
  • North Carolina.

In addition, some states may allow parents to insert a virtual visitation provision as part of their child visitation schedule or child custody agreement even if their state has not passed a virtual visitation or similar statute yet.

For instance, the state of Colorado allows judges to include the option of virtual visitation for parents in a child custody order. Parents in Colorado may also agree to allow one another to hold virtual child visitation sessions without such a court order.

Parents who are considering the option to visit their children using virtual means should also know that it is not intended to completely replace traditional child visitation standards. As a brief refresher, traditional child visitation standards refer to a noncustodial parent’s right to spend time with their child in person. In other words, virtual visitation rights are meant to supplement traditional child visitation rights and thus should not be treated as a substitute.

The following is a list that provides the most common situations in which a parent’s right to visit their child virtually will likely be approved by a court, such as when:

  • The circumstances warrant increased contact: Virtual visitation can offer both a safe and effective way to encourage increased contact between a noncustodial parent and their child. This option may prove to be beneficial in cases where the relationship between a parent and their child is strained or nonexistent.
    • It can also provide advantages in certain situations, such as when a child feels as if a noncustodial parent is not an active part of their current life or would like to have the option to communicate with them more often when they are not around.
  • It comports with the child’s best interest standard: As with any other issue involving child custody or child visitation rights, the court must base its decision on whether it would be in the child’s best interest. Thus, a court will also be required to apply this standard when it is determining whether to grant a parent virtual visitation rights over their child. Additionally, this will also be the deciding factor when it comes time for a court to issue its final child custody or visitation order.
  • The noncustodial parent and the child live in different states: Since the pandemic has made it more difficult to travel between states, this reason is becoming one of the more frequently cited options to allow for virtual child visitation in child custody cases. For instance, if a noncustodial parent resides in a separate state or country from their child, then virtual visitation offers a way to increase contact between the two parties. It also helps families to reduce travel expenses and other costs related to child visitation.

On the other hand, virtual child visitation will most likely not be permitted if a judge finds that it might present a danger or threat to the well-being of a child. An example of such a scenario would be when a noncustodial parent has a proven history of abuse or has been involved in illegal activities.

A judge may also deny a parent’s right to virtual child visitation if the custodial parent can prove that the noncustodial parent is using virtual visitation sessions to control or exert influence over their child. Additionally, a judge may withhold the right to virtual visitations from a noncustodial parent if they have a history of sexual abuse, violent tendencies towards, or are stalking the child or the child’s custodial parent.

Unlike visiting a child in person, virtual visitation presents the issue of little or no capacity for a third party to supervise the session. Thus, this can make it difficult for parents to obtain these rights in states that do not formally recognize this option of child visitation. Therefore, parents who are seeking to gain virtual child visitation rights should consider contacting a local child visitation lawyer for further legal assistance.

Do I Need an Attorney for Help with Virtual Visitation?

The right to virtual child visitation is a relatively new development in the field of family law; particularly, in the area that governs child visitation and custody proceedings. As such, the option of virtual child visitation may not yet be available in every state.

Given the conditions of the pandemic, however, being able to obtain these parental rights may be important to persons who are dealing with long-distance parent-child relationships. The option to visit a child through virtual channels may also be crucial for families wherein the parents of a child do not have an amicable relationship with one another.

Thus, if you are a parent who is attempting to obtain virtual child visitation rights, then it may be in your best interest to consult with a local child visitation lawyer for further legal guidance. An experienced child visitation lawyer will be able to assist you in proving your eligibility and in establishing your right to virtual child visitation.

Your lawyer can also help you with negotiating a virtual child visitation arrangement as well as with drafting any related virtual child visitation legal documents like a contract. In addition, your lawyer can modify any pre-existing child visitation agreements and can make sure that any documents associated with your child visitation or custody arrangements include virtual visitation rights moving forward.

Finally, if you need to renegotiate any terms of your virtual child visitation agreement, your lawyer will also be able to provide representation in court or at any future legal meetings related to your matter.