The death of Apple founder Steve Jobs is a good time to think about the impact that our growing technologies for communication and socialization might have within family law. One of the ways that technology is changing the way families relate to one another is through something known as "virtual visitation."
As the name implies, this is a form of child visitation that requires the use of technology -- such as email, video conferencing, video mail, and instant messaging.
Requests for virtual visitation are generally made by the non-custodial parent when the custodial parent seeks to relocate out of the area with a child. Virtual visitation requests may also apply to new child custody and visitation requests, including child custody and visitation in non-divorce cases and visitation requests by unmarried fathers.
Some of the examples of how virtual visitation may be used to benefit the parent-child relationship include:
- Reading a child a bedtime story;
- Helping with homework or a special project;
- Seeing subtle facial expressions of a parent or child, such as a smile or frown;
- A child showing a parent missing teeth, an award, or other special accomplishment;
- Connecting on social media sites as a way to talk about day-to-day occurrences; and possibly,
- Witnessing sporting events, piano recitals, and other events live as they are happening.
On the other hand, while instant messaging and other forms of electronic communication may be beneficial in those cases where the non-custodial parent is physically absent, some believe that virtual visitation may be viewed as a replacement, and not supplement, for regular in-person child visits. So Texas virtual visitation should only be a part of visitation, not the entirety.
Texas is one a the handful of states that has enacted laws allowing courts to order virtual visitation in custody matters. The Texas virtual visitation law is Texas Family Code 153.015.