Active one-on-one communication using cameras, streaming video, etc. has come to
be known as "virtual visitation." In Michigan, the term "visitation" gave way a
long time ago to the term "parenting time." The idea is that parents parent
their children and others more distant in relationship to the children may
"visit" the child. But because the terminology is pretty well fixed, I'm going
to use the readily accepted, and known term "virtual visitation."
The first time I contemplated the
concept of virtual parenting time was in 1994. At that time, I had a client who lived in
Francisco Bay area whose child lived with the
custodial parent in Northern Michigan. The concept was very, very new at that
time. I'd like to
be able to report that this idea worked. Certainly, we had a court system
willing to consider it. What we did not have was a cooperative custodial parent.
The potential for setting up and keeping a computer and camera in working order
seemed daunting, if not impossible. My client decided not to fight because any and all of his parenting time
occurred with stiff opposition from the mother, cost a lot of money and anguish
for my client, and also caused the child anxiety that was transferred as a
result of the parents' conflict.
In today's extraordinarily
mobile society, however, I believe that virtual visitation is not only necessary
in order to preserve a good parent-child relationship, but is also something
that most people have the skills to facilitate. Certainly as fathers gain
more custodial rights and far greater parenting time opportunities than was the
case 40 years ago, virtual parenting time is not just possible, it's a concept
that can work in most cases. I can see other good uses for it as well: letting a
parent who travels a lot in his or her job to check in daily with his or her
children, fostering a healthy relationship between children and their
grandparents or other relatives, including siblings, who live far away.
Some lawyers view virtual visitation as a threat.
In their view, allowing parenting time via the Internet may make it easier for
trial courts to permit relocation of the custodial parent, disrupting what might
be a solid parent-child relationship. This is an argument that has merit, and
should be carefully discussed with a client. It works both ways, too. Your
client may wish to relocate. Virtual visitation may make it possible. Your
client may have lost a motion for relocation. Virtual visitation may give him or
her something back for loss of the parent-child daily contact.
While it is true that
hands-on parenting is preferable, sometimes parents just do not have that
opportunity. Virtual parenting / virtual visitation may not be as good as the
real thing, but it is surely better than phone calls and certainly better than
no parenting time. Parents can readily use the internet to maintain contacts
with their children. The parents' written settlement agreements can contain
provisions for this type of parenting time. These agreements, incorporated into
divorce judgments, can build in financial and other incentives to make sure that
there is compliance.
As in custody and
parenting time arrangements, there are many different forms or possibilities for
parent-child contact. Internet parenting time might involve regularly scheduled
email sessions; private on-line chatting; instant messaging; creating a website
for your child and posting drawings the child has made, poems he has written,
etc.; or using a web camera to have audio and visual session -- whether to talk,
or to have a parent help a child with a homework assignment or to play
interactive multiplayer games.
On a recent trip
to Hawaii, I had the opportunity to discuss at length the concept of virtual
visitation with a father, Guy Rawson, a flight attendant for Aloha Airlines
who must spend 10 overnights a month away from his children. He explained to me
how he uses a video-conferencing program to talk to his children every morning
to send them off to school and preschool, and how, every night, he talks about
them about their day, reads them a story before bedtime, and helps his wife tuck
them in. I was impressed. It
reminded me of an evening when just before sitting down for dinner at my house,
David Lawrence, then publisher of he Detroit Free Press, called his young
children to see how their day had gone and to say goodnight -- as the soup was
getting cold, mind you.
I asked Guy to
share his experiences with virtual visitation with you. I'm sure there's even
more that he could tell you -- things that I don't quite understand such as how
to communicate as though you were sitting next to your child when you read
the story -- the same kind of technology used to do conferencing.
Here's Guy's explanation of how virtual
visitation works -- the "mechanics"
Guy gave me a couple of examples of how
he stays in touch with his kids
"Merry Christmas Ash"
"Good Morning, Boys"
Join Hello World
to use streaming video mail and other options.
For more information about video emails,
streaming video visits, etc.,
contact Guy Rawson
News Coverage on Virtual Visitation
With work and the school week behind them, Charles A. Mason
III and his daughter, Arielle, who live more than 1,500 miles apart, prepared
for their scheduled weekend visit. There was no packing involved, no plane
tickets, no car rides or drop-offs. All it took was some instant messaging on
their home computers and a little fidgeting in front of their respective
Webcams, and father and daughter were chatting, playing checkers and practicing
Read the entire
article from the New York Times about how virtual parenting time is working for
one dad and his daughter: "Weekends
with Dad, Courtesy of D.S.L., by Lynette Clemetson, published March 19,
" 'Virtual' visits for children of divorce pushed in several states" By Ann
Sanner of the Associated Press, March 1, 2006
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Divorce put David List and his 2-year-old daughter on
opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and he worried that she would soon forget
though. List's divorce agreement guaranteed him ``virtual visitation'' -- the
chance to talk with his daughter through an Internet video connection -- and he
and Ruby Rose, now 5, usually connect at least twice a week. The chats between
California and Great Britain sustain them in between their in-person visits,
which come only a few times a year. ``When she gets off the plane, I know what
she had for dinner last night,'' said List, 49, of Santa Cruz, Calif. ``She'll
run right up to me and jump in my arms because I know exactly what she's all