Fights over child custody and parenting time in divorce cases continues to be a difficult issue in New Jersey’s Family Courts. And “virtual visitation” is a recent addition to the traditional remedies and problems. But overall, modern technology can greatly enlarge the range of solutions in these disputes.
“Virtual visitation,” also called Internet visitation, means the use of e-mail, instant messaging, webcams, and other Internet tools to provide regular contact between a non-residential parent and his or her child or children. While it is not intended to replace in-person visitation, it can supplement it, to foster better parent-child relationships. It can potentially increase parental presence in the lives’ of children.
In the case of McCoy v. McCoy, a divorced mother asked the Court to move with her special needs child from New Jersey to California. She proposed a visitation plan for the father that included daily communication with the child via webcam, to allow him to communicate with and see the child “face to face.” The Court concluded that the mother’s plan was both a “creative and innovative” way for the child to maintain intimate contact with her noncustodial parent.
Critics of virtual visitation fear that it will be used as a convenient tool for one parent to gain permission to move far away. This is a legitimate fear – but it should not “open the gates” to such requests. Our Courts have long used, and will continue to use, the best interests of the child standard. Accordingly, Judges will balance the best interests of the child and weigh those interests together with a parent’s request to move to another state or country. Virtual visitation should not be limited just because it creates novel ways for noncustodial parents to maintain important – and essential – roles in the lives of their children.
“Whether the distance between a mother or father and child is large or small, between noncustodial or custodial parents or because of incarceration or other physical limitations, virtual visitation is a viable option” said the Court in the McCoy case. Children and noncustodial parents alike could actually see improvements in their relationships with these increased contacts. Any parent with custody issues should be open to every possible solution to make the situation better and more convenient for both the child and himself/herself.