Thinking Outside the Box: Electronic Long Distance Parenting Due to Divorce

Electronic communication via Skype, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, e-mail, texting, BBMing and whiteboard, amongst others, provides divorced/separated parents and their children a way to creatively structure parenting time when face-to-face visitation is not possible.  Such methods allow for flexibility in accounting for busy schedules and long-distance relationships.  For instance, Skype allows a long-distance parent to see and interact with his/her child in real time.  Using whiteboard or instant messaging, a parent can help with homework. You Tube, Flickr, and Facebook allow for almost instant exchange of pictures or video of a child’s activities. Teenagers might post frequent short updates as to their activities or feelings via Twitter.

Texas Legislature saw the value in electronic visitation, endorsing frequent contact between parents and children by telephone, electronic mail, instant messaging, videoconferencing, or webcam as early as 2007 and enacted a provision entitled “Electronic Communication with Child by Conservator” which sets out the specifics for electronic visitation (Tex. Fam. Code 153.015).  In determining whether to order an electronic communication schedule, including a schedule for telephone access, courts consider three things: (1) whether electronic communication is in the best interest of the child; (2) whether equipment necessary to facilitate the electronic communication is reasonably available to all parties subject to the order; and (3) any other factor the court considers appropriate.

Practically, the electronic communication schedule could allow the long-distance parent to communicate with the child via e-mail, then designate a period during which the parent would have access to the child via webcam or Skype. Telephone access schedules are also very common, designating a set time or range of time during which the parent not in possession will be allowed to call the child. It is important to consider the child’s schedule when setting a telephone access or electronic visitation schedule.

In August 2010 a New York judge permitted a mother to move from New York to Florida with her children, over the father’s objection, but required the mother to provide, at her expense, the necessary equipment to allow the father to Skype with the children at least 3 days per week. (Debra Baker v. James Baker, 29610-2007, NYLJ 1202464436957, at *1 (Suffolk Cty. Sup., August 4, 2010.)

While convenient and potentially cost-efficient, it is clear that electronic visitation and/or telephone access are not intended as a substitute for actual physical possession of the child but are a means of supplementing physical possession, facilitating the connection between the child and the long-distance parent.

Goose Creek lawyers MILLER|CONWAY are here to answer any questions you may have should you be going through or considering a divorce or custody issue.