In today’s mobile society, it is common for one parent to have a job in a different state or location from where his or her children live. While married parents contend with this issue regularly when one parent must travel for work, it can be trickier for divorced parents. What are the rules concerning virtual parenting? And how can you make it work, either on a temporary or long-term basis? Keep reading to learn more about long-distance parenting in the digital age.
What Is Virtual Visitation?
If you live far from your children and cannot have physical custody or in-person visitation with them, you might wonder how you can manage to keep your relationship strong. The good news is that in the 21st century, there are lots of ways for you to maintain that relationship while taking advantage of all the technology that is likely at your fingertips.
“Visiting” with your child via Skype, Facetime, Zoom, WhatsApp, various email providers, blogs, or one of the many other apps and programs designed to help you feel like you’re right there with them is called virtual visitation. Some states have laws that protect parents’ right to have virtual visits with their child even on days that they do not have physical custody of them.
This means that parents in these states might have the right to have these visits whether they live in a different state, are temporarily traveling for work, are under quarantine, or are, for whatever reason, not able to physically be with their child. The states with this type of legislation include:
Other states that have pending legislation include:
- New Jersey
- South Carolina
Even in states where this is not written into law, it is often possible for parents to ask for and receive virtual visitation on days when they do not have their child physically in their home. This can allow you to have regular contact with a child–you could even have daily contact if that is what you and your child’s other parent want.
Ways to Virtually Visit with Your Child
Many young children, even toddlers, are using tablets, smartphones, and laptops to have face-to-face conversations with grandparents, preschool teachers, and other important people in their lives, especially after the social distancing required in 2020. This is a great way to visit with little ones who cannot read and write. They will talk to you in real-time and see your face right on their screen. You will also have the benefit of seeing their facial expressions and body language.
Even babies will learn to cook and smile at the familiar face on the screen, and you will be able to see them showing off their milestones. As children get older, face-to-face virtual meetings are still valuable, but you can expand on that. Once your child learns how to type and read, they might enjoy instant messaging. Children who are too young to have smartphones of their own will probably prefer to use a tablet or computer for these messages.
The benefit here is that these do not need to be read in real-time, and you can choose a time per day to respond to your child. On days when there is not an optimal time for Skype or Facetime call, you might send over a message in the evening so your child can read it at bedtime, for example. Older children who have their own phones might enjoy texting, Snapchatting, and using various other apps to communicate with you regularly.
You also might suggest keeping a shared blog if your child likes to write or take photos. You can take turns uploading pictures or text (or both) to document things you have been doing. If you have several children or other family members who would like to participate, this can become a treasured family project that you keep up with for many years.
Tips for Success
There are a few considerations you should keep in mind when setting up virtual visitation with your child:
- Make it part of the routine. If you can see your child on video every day or every other day, that will help little ones know what to expect.
- Be flexible. As much as routines are important, keep in mind that older kids often have various other obligations (sports practice, homework, and time with their friends) that might interfere. You might ask your child to Facetime you for a few minutes before they go to bed or in between school and dinner rather than insisting on a specific time.
- Switch to email and other non-real-time methods if needed. When time is crunched, an email or text is better than no communication at all. Try to make time for face-to-face discussion once or twice per week, but in between, a quick instant message will keep you close to your child.
Talking to Your Child’s Other Parent About Virtual Visitation
If you get along well with your child’s other parent, it is reasonable to expect that they will support virtual visitation. It is important to set some limits on when it will occur, particularly with young children who will need help getting online and using the communication apps. If you and your ex can determine a good time for each party (which might be daily, weekly, or some other basis), you can write it into your parenting plan and consider the matter settled.
If you are not getting along well with your ex and talking to him or her does not work, you might need to appeal to the court. In this case, find out whether your state has the legislation to support virtual visits. Even if it does not, a judge might find it completely reasonable; you will not know unless you talk to someone familiar with your case. You can contact a private attorney or if you would like to save money and represent yourself, get in touch with a legal resource group like National Family Solutions.