The issue of virtual visitation has entered the realm of custody rights and may have an effect on visitation arrangements. That effect may be extremely positive or negative depending on the relations between the parents. The reality is that communication vis-a-vis technology like instant messaging and video conferencing enables a divorced parent to connect with his or her child.
Just this month Illinois examined the issue. View the original article by The Chicago Tribune.
While nothing has been written into New York State law here, Emilio Colaiacovo, a matrimonial/family law attorney and partner with the Bouvier Partnership in Buffalo, says that virtual visitation "does occur here with greater frequency than I think people are aware of."
Unlike Illinois, "parents do not have an affirmative, legal right for this by statute" in New York, said Colaiacovo. "But if the court believes the child would benefit from virtual visitation, the court will order that. I just finished a case where the parent lives in Austin, Texas, and the child lives in Buffalo," and the court ordered that a Webcam and Internet access be installed and used for regular virtual visitation .
Even without "a statute that puts any teeth behind this," said Colaiacovo, "the court, by virtue of its own decisions, can make this virtual visitation happen."
Colaiacovo has had virtual visitation arranged in many cases where parents live in another city, including for one military parent who was deployed to Baghdad. "He needed to have that visual contact with the child, which is very important," Colaiacovo said. "Where you have a noncustodial parent living out of the area, you see virtual visitation more often than not."
In the 10 years he has been practicing family law, Colaiacovo says he has seen text-messaging access become as commonly mentioned as telephone access. "The Webcam stuff is new," he says, "because now most computers come equipped with that technology. That's new in the past two or three years."
The Illinois law is similar to a handful passed in other states over the last six years, according to David Meyer, associate dean at the University of Illinois College of Law.
Mayer said the extent of visitation rights is still for a judge to determine.