Raleigh Family Law Attorney Says Divorced Parents Should Consider Virtual Visitation

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When a divorced parent relocates with a child, arranging video conference visits may be a reasonable solution for the non-custodial parent who stays behind, Raleigh family law attorney Charles R. Ullman says.

Charles R. Ullman

As use of video conference technology becomes more commonplace, it's inevitable that it will become a common feature in child custody arrangements. Family law is good at keeping up with changes in technology and society.

Skype, iChat and other online video conference programs may be changing the way courts and divorced parents handle relocation issues, Raleigh family law attorney Charles R. Ullman says.

Virtual visitation, as it’s commonly called, became a buzz topic earlier this month after a New York court ordered a woman moving to Florida to use the Skype video conference program so her children could have long-distance visitation with their father.

The mother in the case, Baker v. Baker (New York Law Journal, No. 29610-2007), claimed she needed to move because her home was in foreclosure. The court ordered three Skype communications per week between the father and his two children.

“When it’s clear the custodial parent needs to move, the non-custodial parent should ask for virtual visitation as a way to continue a relationship with the child,” says Ullman, founder of Charles R. Ullman & Associates, a Wake County law firm that concentrates on family and domestic law matters, including child custody.

“A virtual visit isn’t the same as an actual, physical visit – you can’t give the child a hug, for instance – but it does tend to provide a more meaningful visit than some of the other options, such as a telephone call,” Ullman says. “In many cases, it can be reasonable solution for the non-custodial parent whose children are moving away.”

Relocation of the custodial parent can be a thorny post-divorce issue, according to Ullman. In North Carolina, a non-custodial parent who objects to the relocation bears the burden of showing that the move will prevent a “realistic” visitation schedule that will “preserve and foster the parental relationship.”

A relatively new North Carolina law prevents virtual visitation from being a factor in that determination, Ullman says.

The 2009 law, found at G.S. 50-13.2(e), permits virtual visitation arrangements – but only as a supplement, not a substitute, for actual custody or visitation.

The law also expressly prohibits virtual visitation from being used to justify a custodial parent’s relocation or as a factor in calculating child support.

“Virtual visitation only comes into play after a court has determined that the relocation is justified,” Ullman says. “When the non-relocating parent is faced with a child moving, the parent can contend that the virtual visitation is needed to maintain regular, healthy communication with the child.”

According to Ullman, divorcing parents should also consider addressing virtual visitation schedules in their parenting agreements that are reached through mediation.

The provisions could establish how many times per week the visits will occur, what programs will be used (such as Skype or iChat), who will pay for the computer hardware and software and whether the other parent can be present in the room when the children are in a video conference with the parent.

“As use of video conference technology becomes more commonplace, it’s inevitable that it will become a common feature in child custody arrangements,” Ullman says. “Family law is good at keeping up with changes in technology and society.”

About Charles R. Ullman & Associates

The law firm of Charles R. Ullman & Associates, located on 109 S. Bloodworth St. in Raleigh, N.C., concentrates on family law, including divorce, child custody, child support, visitation, alimony, post-separation support and equitable distribution. Ullman is also a trained collaborative law attorney. For more information, contact the firm by calling (919) 829-1006 or use its online form.

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