Are There Legal Rules for Virtual Visitations with Parents?

Virtual Visitations are Becoming More Common. What Do You Need to Know?

Some parents do not have the ability to have frequent in-person time with their children for reasons such as the long distance between residences, histories of problematic behaviors, or perhaps Covid-related restrictions. Other parents may wish to increase contact between a non-residential parent and child beyond the regularly scheduled in-person visits.

In these situations, virtual visitations can help. These are not so much a substitute for in-person visits as they are a supplement to help maximize the child-parent bond and parenting role. Virtual visitations can take various forms. There are, however, some items to consider in terms of how to structure a visitation schedule and other parameters. A knowledgeable family law attorney can discuss with you how this option could fit into your overall parenting plan.

Child has a virtual visitation using FaceTime

How are Virtual Visitations Conducted?

One common form of virtual visitation is the video call, using something like Skype or Zoom. These can be scheduled on a regular basis between in-person visits, or there could be an agreement to allow them to be done on a more open basis, such as when the child desires to talk to the other parent. Video calls do require some advance scheduling, so one aspect to consider is whether they can be scheduled directly between the child and parent or should be scheduled between the two parents. The age of the child may be a factor to consider.

Other forms of virtual visitation include phone calls, texts, instant messaging, and emails. These forms of contact are generally not scheduled in advance but rather happen in real time as contact is desired.

A question for parents to consider in advance is to what degree such contact is to be encouraged or restricted. The more trust and cooperation there is between the parents, the more it may make sense to allow basically unlimited virtual contact (of course the parents may also want to agree on parenting-related limitations such as not after bedtimes, during homework time, etc.).

Parents who live a long distance from each other are often limited by their circumstances to in-person visits during the school’s summer, winter, and spring breaks. Extended visits during those times can be great bonding times, but they still leave long periods of limited contact between those breaks. Setting up a system of virtual visitations allows for much more frequent contact and a stronger parental role.


Virtual Visitation Raises Questions Concerning Devices

Another potential issue that often arises in this context is whether the child should have their own smartphone or laptop. With a wide range of opinions as to when it is appropriate for children to open access to electronic devices, it is not uncommon for parents to disagree over whether their child should have them. The parent who wants to be able to call or text the child is in favor of them having their own phone or laptop, while the other parent believes that they are too young for these devices. The situation can become quickly heated when one parent feels that the other is attempting to limit their contact with the child and the other parent feels that their wishes concerning the child’s upbringing are being disrespected. Thankfully, this issue can be resolved with some patience and creativity, but divorcing parents should be prepared to give this some consideration.

Another common issue arising from virtual visitation is who will pay for the devices, the service plan, and replacement when they are broken or lost. A laptop or smartphone can cost a considerable amount of money and a monthly service plan can add up over the cost of a year. Parents should give these costs some thought when developing their parenting plan and child support arrangements.


How Virtual Visitation Could Be Used in Your Custody Arrangement

Ultimately, the goal of any parenting plan is to allow for the growth and development of a deep and lasting relationship between the child and both parents. As noted above, virtual visitation is not intended as a substitute for in-person visitation, but it can add tremendous value to your parenting plan when used appropriately. Some examples of how virtual visitation could be used to enhance your parenting plan include the following:

  • To help with homework or a special project
  • To read a bedtime story to a young child
  • To share a special event, such as showing a lost tooth or a special award
  • To allow the parent to view sporting events, musical performances, and other events while they are happening
  • To allow the parent and child to see each other on holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions

While inconveniences may arise, there may be times when a video call could be helpful to the other parent from time to time. That said, both parents should be mindful that these virtual visitations do not become a distraction or intrusion into the other parent’s time with the child.


How Would an Attorney Assist with Virtual Visitations?

If there are specific issues of concern with a parent, then you may want to discuss with a family law attorney what restrictions on virtual visitation would best address those concerns. For instance, if a parent is unreliable in keeping to schedules, regular video calls might not work well, but non-scheduled virtual contact such as texting and calling might work better. If a parent has serious anger management or domestic violence issues, then video visits and emailing (with other parent cc’d) can provide an element of safety compared to in person visits while allowing the visits to be easily supervised if that is needed.

Rules around appropriate virtual visitation in your case can be written into your parenting plan. In this way, the arrangements can be specifically tailored to your situation and your child’s needs. A lawyer, social worker, or child psychologist can help both with suggestions as to provisions that might help.

Family law lawyers see a wide spectrum of issues and solutions in their practices) and the drafting of provisions to carry out any agreements. Similarly, working with a child specialist may help the parents understand and agree on what arrangements are going to be most beneficial to their child.

As beneficial as these visits are, a lack of structure can turn this option into more of a headache than a convenience. Be sure to work with the other parent or seek outside help to create a plan that benefits the child and satisfies both parents.


A Family Law Attorney Can Help You Navigate Virtual Visitation

Virtual visitation is here to stay. At Seattle Divorce Services, we give careful consideration as to how these developments can impact their lives and the lives of their children so that we can provide forward-looking guidance. If you have questions about whether or not virtual visitation is right for you, contact us today at 206-784-3049 to schedule a consultation.