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.

Jim Jeffries | Mobile & Baldwin County Attorney

Jim currently is a member of the Alabama Supreme Court's Advisory Committee on Child Support Guidelines and Enforcement as well as a statewide committee that has been tasked with reviewing and making recommendations for possible revisions to Alabama's version of the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA). Jim was also recently appointed by the President of the Alabama State Bar Association to a serve on a committee whose purpose is to review and comment on Alabama legislation regarding joint custody for a proposal to the Alabama Legislature for possible changes in this legislation.

Jim has attained a Peer Review Ranking of AV from Martindale-Hubbell® - The highest an attorney can be ranked by his peers.

He continues to lecture to attorneys across the state regarding family law issues.

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