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Virtual visitation allows out-of-town parents to stay in touch

Occasionally after a divorce, one of the former spouses will be motivated to move out of town, whether it's for a job, family obligations or other reasons. If the divorced couple has children together, the move requires establishing a long-distance relationship between the kids and the relocating parent. This is easier than it used to be, with email, instant messaging, social media and tools such as Skype that allow face-to-face communication from remote locations.

These means of keeping in touch are the basis of the "virtual visitation" laws that exist in some states, including Texas. The child custody laws give non-custodial parents the right to have electronic communication with their children. Texas, which enacted its law in 2007, is one of five states with a virtual visitation law; 22 other states are at various stages of enacting similar laws.

The laws give the courts authority to award electronic communication as part of visitation agreements. Courts may also decide on the frequency and length of the virtual visits. As with face-to-face visitation, protections exist for cases of physical or emotional abuse and a judge may prohibit such communication if it's shown to be potentially harmful to a child.

Just as with physical visits, electronic communication should have the child's best interests in mind. There have been situations where parents have asked their children to show them around the house via webcam, spying on their ex and looking for evidence of a new partner or something to incriminate him or her. Clearly, the focus should be on the child and catching up on each other's lives.

Although these means of keeping in touch can be a wonderful addition to the relationship between a faraway parent and his or her child, they aren't meant to entirely substitute in-person visitation. Visits on holidays, summer breaks and other times when parents can spend time with their children shouldn't be replaced by Skype calls in a child custody agreement. But they can make the separation a little less painful and the distance between the two a little shorter.

Source: The Washington Times, "Virtual visitation: a sensible child custody option," Myra Fleischer, April 15, 2012

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