Technology, for the most part, is great. Not only have technological improvements and innovations aided science, medicine and the business worlds but our everyday lives have been improved as well. Think about doing research for a work project or school assignment before the invention of the internet. That alone should send shivers up all of our spines. The world has become smaller and more compact due to our harnessing technology.
An area of our world that we may not ordinarily think too much about in the context of technological improvements is visitation for divorced parents. Ordinarily divorced parents would either have the ability to have periods of visitation that occur every other weekend or would be able to have their children with them during the week and then on any weekend that their ex spouse does not have possession of them.
Ideally you as a parent would be available on every single weekend that your child was scheduled to be with you in order to take advantage of the time that is allotted to you for bonding. However, sometimes it is impossible to be available to pick your child up at 6:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon due to unforeseen circumstances.
Visitation through improved technology
Texas allows for parents such as yourself to take advantage of their court ordered periods of possession by Skype and other virtual methods. Whether you have a cellular phone that allows you to place a “video call” to your intended recipient or webcam based services like Skype, if you cannot be physically with your child there are now alternatives to doing so.
Whether you can’t be with your child due to a change in your work schedule or because you are an enlisted member of our armed services, there certainly are benefits to be derived from virtual visitation methods.
What is the law regarding virtual visitation in Texas?
Ten years ago, our state legislature passed a law that had to do with virtual visitation between parents and children. Specifically, the law calls for parents who are divorced to either agree to or request that their court order reasonable periods of electronic communication between themselves and their child. This can be either in addition to or in lieu of their court ordered periods of possession.
A court has it in its own discretion whether to order that virtual periods of possession be allowable under a particular parties’ orders on conservatorship, possession and access. Factors such as whether or not a judge believes it to be in the best interests of your child, whether the technology that is necessary to execute the periods of possession virtually is available to both parents as well as any other factors that judge believes are relevant. From my experiences, there are so many parents that do not take advantage of each and every period of possession that he or she are given. For those parents who are willing to go the extra mile to see their children allowing for virtual visitation periods seems like a no-brainer for most judges to allow for these alternative methods of parent-child interaction.
ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION WITH CHILD BY CONSERVATOR
Texas Family Code Section 153.015 States as follows:
(a) In this section, "electronic communication" means any communication facilitated by the use of any wired or wireless technology via the Internet or any other electronic media. The term includes communication facilitated by the use of a telephone, electronic mail, instant messaging, videoconferencing, or webcam.
(b) If a conservator of a child requests the court to order periods of electronic communication with the child under this section, the court may award the conservator reasonable periods of electronic communication with the child to supplement the conservator's periods of possession of the child. In determining whether to award electronic communication, the court shall consider:
- whether electronic communication is in the best interest of the child;
- whether equipment necessary to facilitate the electronic communication is reasonably available to all parties subject to the order; and
- any other factor the court considers appropriate.
(c) If a court awards a conservator periods of electronic communication with a child under this section, each conservator subject to the court's order shall:
- provide the other conservator with the e-mail address and other electronic communication access information of the child;
- notify the other conservator of any change in the e-mail address or other electronic communication access information not later than 24 hours after the date the change takes effect; and
- if necessary equipment is reasonably available, accommodate electronic communication with the child, with the same privacy, respect, and dignity accorded all other forms of access, at a reasonable time and for a reasonable duration subject to any limitation provided by the court in the court's order.
(d) The court may not consider the availability of electronic communication as a factor in determining child support. The availability of electronic communication under this section is not intended as a substitute for physical possession of or access to the child where otherwise appropriate.
(e) In a suit in which the court's order contains provisions related to a finding of family violence in the suit, including supervised visitation, the court may award periods of electronic communication under this section only if:
- the award and terms of the award are mutually agreed to by the parties; and
- the terms of the award:
- (A) are printed in the court's order in boldfaced, capitalized type; and
- (B) include any specific restrictions relating to family violence or supervised visitation, as applicable, required by other law to be included in a possession or access order.
How do parents and children stand to benefit from virtual visitation?
It’s not only that parents who take advantage of virtual periods of possession with their child are able to cultivate their parent-child relationship. It is also that parents who live abroad, for example, can see their children every day working on homework and participating in school activities.
This is somewhat off topic, but I have seen advertisements on television where military parents take webcam videos of themselves reading books. Those videos are then emailed to their children back home in the United States where he or she can replay them before bedtime. If you are a parent reading this blog post then you know how special it is to be able to read to your child before bed and the bonding experience that it creates. Being able to mimic this situation from hundreds or even thousands of miles away can be a real blessing for parents. Finally, parents who are able to participate in virtual visitation sessions are able to not miss out on sporting events and other extracurricular activities that their children are participating in.
Are there negatives to virtual visitation sessions?
Like most things in life, not every aspect of virtual visitation sessions is positive. For example, a large potential drawback to an arrangement is that no matter how frequently you as a parent engage your child in visitation via Skype or another webcam like application, it is no substitute for personal contact. This means that sustained and consistent personal visitation is the best and for that there is no substitute.
My counter argument to this concern is that while virtual periods of visitation are convenient and at the very least are “better than nothing” they will not be replacing the sort of visitation that is ordered and awarded in final decrees of divorce. The motivation for the State legislature to have passed these laws was to have Skype time supplement rather than as a substitute for periods of possession. If you can’t make a Thursday night dinner, you may want to negotiate that you can Skype with the children from 6-7 on a Thursday evening and eat your dinner at the same time as your kids, or something similar. Either way, outside the box thinking and planning is possible with the advent and improvements in virtual technologies.
Questions on virtual visitation for divorced parents? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about visitation with your children in a virtual setting please contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys are experienced in creative problem solving for clients in any situation. A free of charge consultation is available with one of our attorneys six days a week. We represent clients across all of southeast Texas and would be honored to do the same for you and your family.
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Law Office of Bryan Fagan | Houston, Texas Divorce Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding Divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX Child Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our Divorce lawyers in Spring TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan handles Divorce cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Waller County.