by Maury D. Beaulier
On January 25, 2006, Wisconsin became the second state in the country
to pass a law allowing Judges in family court cases to allow virtual
Are you a divorced parent that lives a distance away from your
Are you a divorce parent that travels out of town frequently for their
Is your parenting time supervised?
Are you a divorce parent that would simply like to communicate with
your children more regularly?
Regardless of the reason, when one parent is separated from a child, it
can cause a great disruption in their young lives. Children do not
always understand why one parent must relocate or why on parent must have
supervised visits. What they remember is that one of their parent's is
no longer there. With the creation of the internet and expanding
technology, parents in these situations may now be afforded innovative and
creative opportunities to remain a larger part of their children's lives.
This is often called "Virtual Visitation," "Virtual Parent-Time",
"Internet Visitation", and "Computer Visitation." All of these terms refer
to connecting with children over the internet. It can refer to e-mail
contact, instant messaging programs, or video and voice conferencing.
Certainly, connecting with your child through a computer does not
replace personal contact. However, it serves as an effective bridge for
parents when frequent personal contact is not possible. With regard to
supervised visits, it also serves as a safe medium where contact can be
innocuously monitored if necessary. Although virtual visitation has not
yet been widely embraced by Courts or Judges, it is coming.
In a 2002, a Massachusetts trial court approved "internet visitation."
(Cleri v. Cleri, Massachusetts Probate & Family Court, No.
01D-0009-D1.) In that case, Judge Chouteau Merrill allowed Mrs. Cleri to move from
Massachusetts to Long Island, New York. The unusual part of the case is
that the Judge also ordered virtual visitation between Mr. Cleri and
the three children, a five year old and two year old twins. Additionally,
state legislatures have already begun to act.
On March 23rd, 2004, Utah enacted the country's first ‘Virtual
Visitation’ Law. Several states have followed suit including the State of
Wisconsin which allows a Judge to allow computer contact with children when
that contact is advisable in eth Judge's discretion.
The benefits of Computerized parenting time are numerous. First, and
perhaps foremost, computer visitation may reduce the psychological impact
of separation on a child. Most psychologists will tell you that
children often blame themselves when one parent is absent from the family
unit. They experience significant separation anxiety and may even
internalize that anxiety as guilt or feelings of abandonment. These children
often experience serious behavioral problems that can haunt them
throughout their childhood.
There are many types of virtual visitation. Any form is possible so
long as the technology is reasonably affordable to the parties. Forms of
virtual visitation include:
E-Mail. E-mail is the oldest and, perhaps most common form of
computerized communication. What it lacks, however, is the real time interaction
with a child.
Instant Message Programs. A form of real time interaction includes
instant message programs. These programs function like a chat room allowing
each party to type messages to the other that can be seen as soon as
the message is posted in real time. The benefit of these programs is that
they can alert a person when another participant is online. It has the
potential to allow parents to spontaneously communicate with their
children in addition to having regularly scheduled contact. The drawback
instant message programs is that they may limit contact to those children
that are old enough to spell and type messages. Common instant message
programs include Yahoo Instant Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, MSN
Instant Messenger, ICQ to name only a few.
Personal Video Conferencing or a Video Calls. Many of the instant
message programs previously mentioned are currently integrating video
conferencing and voice conferencing into their programs. This means that two
people in two different locations may communicate in real time by voice
and video. This type of virtual visitation does require additional
equipment, however, including a high-speed connection (like DSL or a Cable
Modem), a webcam, a headset. a microphone, and the proper software.
Once these are in place, you are able to have a completely interactive
video phone call where you can SEE as well as hear each other with real
video that is clear crisp and audio that is as good as a telephone call.
Video calls allow parents to interact with their children in many ways
that are preferable to the other methods. By video conference, a parent
can see the subtle changes in their children as they grow. They can see
their expressions and their emotions. Through video conferencing a
parent may even assist their children with their homework, play games or
appreciate their latest art project.
If you decide to include ‘Virtual Visitation’ as a part of your
parenting time order or if you re seeking an order of the court imposing that
obligation divorce, you may wish to include language that is specific
The precise form(s) of "Virtual Visitation" that you will use even
including the program (video conference, email, Video Mail, Yahoo Instant
Messaging, MSN Instant Messaging, etc.)
The equipment necessary including both hardware and software and the
type of internet connection.
Who pays for the internet service or equipment. If you believe there
may be an objection to the cost you may consider offering to purchase the
equipment yourself for the other parent's use.
The Schedule for the virtual visitation including the specific days of
the week and times of day. If equipment malfunctions or breaks, what
time period is allowed for computer repair before court sanctions are
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Maury D. Beaulier is a family law attorney
practicing in the states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. He can be reached on his
web site located at http://www.divorceprofessionals.com