Family Law

Child Visitation Hits the Internet

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, what's face time on the internet worth? To non-custodial parents in Illinois, it's probably priceless. A law in that state gives these parents the chance to interact more with their children.

Virtual Visitation Laws

Illinois' law gives judges the power to give non-custodial parents internet or virtual visitation with their children. (Non-custodial parents have visitation rights rather than full-time custody of their children). The law, which took effect in January 2010, was written in part by Jeffrey M. Leving, a family law attorney known world-wide for his work on fathers' rights in divorce and child custody matters.

Virtual or electronic visitation (or e-visitation) includes communicating and interacting with their children through many kinds of technology, including:

  • Internet or web-based conferencing using a web cam
  • Video conferencing using a video phone
  • Instant and text messaging
  • Email
  • Telephone calls

Virtual visitation is in addition to your regular visitation rights, and it's up to the other parent to make sure your child is available for the virtual visitation. For example, a typical visitation schedule may include one week day and every other weekend. Now, a judge may award you an additional few hours per week to "meet" with and talk to your child though video, email, or telephone. Your e-visitation rights are just as enforceable as your in-person visitation rights.

Judges may grant virtual visitation unless it creates a danger to the child. For example, if there's evidence that the non-custodial parent is abusive or is involved in illegal activities, a parent may not get e-visitation rights.

Many States Participate

Illinois passed an e-visitation law in 2009, joining five states (Indiana, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and Utah) that had similar laws on their books. And, as late as July 2009, over 20 other states were working on passing virtual visitation laws.

All of these efforts come from the realization that children of divorced or separated parents need contact with both parents, and vice versa. And more contact than allowed by the typical visitation plan. And what about parents who live far away from their children, like after relocating to a new city or state because of a job?

The laws are designed to give non-custodial parents and their children to build and keep strong relationships. This means more contact.

It didn't take long for an Illinois father to take advantage of the law. Shortly after it went into effect, Greg Baddick helped his nine-year old daughter Isabella with her schoolwork - through internet video conferencing. They "meet" on their laptops once a week. The e-visits are in addition to their in-person visits during one day of the week and every other weekend.

To Greg the virtual visitations are a "god send." He lives in Elgin, Illinois, and Isabella lives about 40 miles away with her mother in Chicago. The extra time he gets with Isabella through e-visits help him feel as though he's not missing anything as she grows up.

For You and Your Children

The laws are for you and your child, and if your state has one, you should take advantage of it. If you're involved in a divorce right now, talk to your spouse or attorney about setting up virtual visitations.

  • If your divorce is finalized already, you can go to court and ask a judge to change or "modify" the visitation agreement to include virtual visitation
  • If your state doesn't have a virtual visitation law yet, call or write to your state representatives and ask that they begin working on a new law

When the custodial and non-custodial parents remember that your child's well-being is the most important thing in your lives, it shouldn't be hard to come up with a virtual visitation schedule that works for everyone.

Questions For Your Attorney

  • How do I ask for a modification of my visitation rights? Do I need a lawyer to do it? How much will you charge?
  • If my ex-spouse id granted virtual visitations, do I have to pay for a computer or phone for our child to use for the visits?
  • Are there any reasons why our state wouldn't pass a virtual visitation law?
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