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Courts keep parent-child lines open with virtual visits

One of the most difficult-to-manage changes for noncustodial parents is physical distance from children. Parental relocation following divorce is common for financial security or personal reasons. The move can be jarring for both the children and the noncustodial parent.

Child custody issues intensify when one parent increases the distance from a former partner. The National Center for State Courts reports that 35 million U.S. children have divorced or separated parents, and 25 percent of those children are coping with a long-distance parent.

Nearly 10 million children and their noncustodial parents face communication challenges. Family law courts recognize the propensity for couples to create physical distance after the end of a relationship and have turned to technology to help bridge the parent-child gap. Judges may order "virtual visitation" rights for noncustodial parents that guarantee an electronic link with kids. Faraway parents stay connected with their children's lives through texts, emails, social media websites and webcams.

"Virtual" or electronic visitations are legal rights available for parents living in Texas and five other states. Almost two-dozen other states are considering legislation that would include "virtual visitation" among the options for closing the parent-child distance.

Family law courts may make the electronic communications part of a parenting plan, detailing when and how often the "virtual visits" take place. Judges still view virtual meetings between parents and kids as second-best compared to face-to-face meetings.

Critics complain that parents can manipulate circumstances surrounding electronic meetings. A parent could use the virtual availability as an excuse to move farther away from children. Misuse of the medium is also possible if parents use webcams to spy on an ex-spouse.

"Virtual visits" provide an avenue for divorced or separated parents to communicate with kids as long as courts and parents are watchful that the experience remains in the best interests of children.

Source: Washington Times, "Virtual visitation: A sensible child custody option," Myra Fleischer, Apr. 15, 2012

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