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If you live in the Mobile-Baldwin County area and are going through a divorce or are about to go through a divorce, have you ever wondered what sort of visitation the non-custodial parent will be granted? It is a question that many in this situation ask about and is one that is usually easily answered, despite the differences in the way this issue is handled in our local counties.
In theory, a domestic relations and/or Juvenile Court Judge has very wide discretion to fashion particular visitation schedules in each case depending on the facts and circumstances of that case. In reality, however, most Judges in this area have developed their own “standard visitation” schedules that they put in their orders. These can vary slightly from the basic order as well. For instance, in Mobile, a Wednesday night can be added if the parties ask for it, but the Courts will not allow much more that that, despite an agreement between the parties. However in Baldwin County, Wednesday night is part of the standard order. Also, Baldwin County Judges will allow the parties to share custody where the children spend an even amount of time with each parent (two weeks with one and two weeks with the other, for example). The following are the “highlights” of the normal visitation orders in different courts in this area.
In Mobile County it is as follows:
-Every other weekend from Friday at 6pm to Sunday at 6pm.
-One month during the Summer.
-One week at Christmas beginning at 2pm on Christmas Day.
-Thanksgiving and Springbreak holidays alternate in even and odd years.
I have never really considered “virtual visitation” or contact between parents and children over a computer video connection to be practical. However, after reading Ann Sanner’s AP article titled “‘Virtual’ Visits Pushed in Several States,” I may have to make this part of the visitation options I discuss with certain of my clients. While it obviously should not be used as a substitute for actual physical visitation, in the right circumstances it seems that this could help many parents and children maintain their relationship.
The article above describes a prime example of when virtual visitation would be appropriate and desirable. The Father lives in another country and only gets to exercise in-person visits a few times per year. Even so, his divorce agreement guarantees him contact with his 5 year old daughter by internet video connection and he usually gets to talk to her this way at least two times per week. The fact that they are able to look at one another during these talks seems to make a big difference in the quality of his contact as opposed to mere telephone conversations.
While local Judges may not be familiar with this method of contact, based on the very broad discretion Judges have in this state when it comes to visitation matters, I think it is something they have the power to order now, without the need to have a specific statute autorizing it. With the proliferation of broadband internet connections as well as the ease with which these video connections can be set up, there is no reason to only consider them in situations where the parties are separted by long distances. These contacts could just as easily take place as a part of local visitation situations.
I was walking down the hallway of my house the other night and I heard my 14 year old daughter having a conversation with what sounded like another boy in her room. It was late and I knew no one was there but, of course, I immediately headed that way. When I opened the door to her room I saw her sitting on her bed with her new school laptop in front of her and she was talking to and laughing at her computer.
It turns out she was having a Skype video conversation with her Uncle who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. As I leaned in to view the screen I saw my brother-in-law and also saw myself in the bottom of the screen. I waved and said hello and he did the same back to me. Amazing!
I have had several opportunities to put provisions in agreement divorces or relocation case settlements that obligate one party or the other to have broadband connections to facilitate communications with the other non-custodial parent but this was my first personal experience with it in video form. It really was a great way to communicate and was much better than a simple phone call would have been.
Alabama has no statutory obligation requiring a court to consider Skype or other forms of ”virtual visitaion.” I am also not aware of a published opinion where this was required by a judge after a hearing. However, with the economy being in the condition it is, causing both custodial and non-custodial parents to consider relocating to find jobs, the technology that allows this sort of communication can help improve an otherwise bad situation. The technology has defenitely come a long way. Video conversations are certaily no substitution for spending time with your children but they absolutely can help give the feeling that your children are not so far away.
In Alabama, the calculation of child support is governed by Alabama Rule of Judicial Procedure 32. ”Rule 32″ as it is called contains very specific instructions for how a non-custodial parent’s child support is to be determined. Once the calculation has been completed, judges are obligated to order that parent to pay that specific amount without deviation unless there is a specific reason to make the ordered amount higher or lower. One of the reasons to deviate specifically mentioned in Rule 32 concerns the situation when one parent lives far enough away from their children that they incur substantial costs to travel to see their children. These days travel to see your children in their hometown can get expensive with gas or airplane fares rising every day, not to mention hotel costs and meals at restaurants. This can be an important issue to raise in several situations.
If you are the non-custodial parent and you have to move away from your children, then this can be the basis of a motion to reduce your child support. That is especially true if you are going to be paid less money to work at your new job. In that case you can request a reduction for both reasons. Of course, anytime you are divorced and there are children involved, there is always a chance that you will have further disagreements that result in potential litigation before a judge. As a result, documenting these extra expenses with receipts, bank records and/or credit card statements is essential to giving yourself a chance to get the judge to agree with your position. Remember, the person paying child support is always the one that bears the burden to prove payment of support no matter what form.
Travel costs can also be important if you are the custodial parent and you are the one that is moving. If you notify your Ex that you intend to move and they object, litigation attempting to get a judge to allow the move can be complicated, time consuming and expensive. Offering to reduce the child support they are paying as a way to get them to agree to the move is one of many tools you can use to settle the dispute.