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Courts consider virtual visitation in child custody cases

According to data published by the National Center for State Courts, about one in four children with divorced or separated parents live in a different city than their noncustodial parents. In fact, approximately 75 percent of divorced mothers relocate at least once within four years of their separation, meaning that nearly 10 million children are unable to regularly interact directly with one of their parents.

As a solution, a number of states have implemented virtual visitation systems, which give noncustodial parents the right to interact with their children through electronic means, such as webcam chat, text messages, email and social media services. Maryland is not one of the six states to have implemented virtual visitation, but there have been bills introduced in 22 states.

Although virtual visitation saw use in American family courts in the late 1990s, the technology boom of the last decade has made visitation significantly easier for noncustodial parents who cannot easily visit their children in person. Supporters of virtual visitation say it is not meant to replace conventional visits, but help parents and their children maintain contact between holidays, summer vacations and other similar occasions. They say this helps noncustodial parents stay involved in their children's day-to-day activities and generally encourages more committed parenting.

Critics of virtual visitation say it gives parents an excuse to move away from their children. They also point to abuses of virtual visitation, in which parents have used video chat sessions with their children as opportunities to spy on their former partners and spouses. However, most family courts reserve the right to restrict virtual visitation just as they would with conventional visitation, limiting the frequency and duration of each "visit." Legal experts say it is important for these courts to continue to employ high standards and awarding child custody and visitation rights in order to act in the best interests of the children.

Source: Washington Times, "Virtual visitation: a sensible child custody option," Myra Fleischer, April 15, 2012

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