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What is virtual visitation and how do you make it work?

Virtual visitation isn't a term that a lot of parents tend to stumble over when they're reading about custody and visitation -- but that may change as judges keep looking for new ways to give parents an equal share of parenting time while disrupting the lives of the kids as little as possible.

Virtual visitation is exactly what it sounds like -- the parent and child aren't in the same room together, but they use some form of technology to interact. This can take place in any number of ways:

  • Skype or other face-to-face video conferencing
  • Email exchanges
  • Private messaging on Facebook or Messenger
  • Messaging on gamer forums like Steam
  • Text messaging on phones
  • Phone calls

While virtual visitation generally gets brought up when one parent wants to leave the area where the other parent is living, it's likely that virtual visitation is going to start to become a much more commonly applied tool.

While Michigan isn't among the states with laws already pertaining to virtual visitation, don't be surprised if a judge suggests it -- or even puts it into an order. When appealed, the higher courts tend to favor virtual visitation as well.

However, there's a catch to virtual visitation: making it work. In order for this type of interaction between the parent and child to be productive and really count as any sort of quality time, the parent with physical custody during the virtual visitation needs to observe some rules of etiquette that don't normally apply when your child is chatting on the phone or in a private message with someone online:

  1. Schedule the contact if needed and be on time. Some parents are comfortable with just an open-ended invitation to make contact while others operate on a tight schedule so they need their child to be around when it is time to Skype. If you're the parent with physical custody, make sure that the child is ready to Skype and not in the middle of bath time when it is supposed to happen.
  2. Be respectful of the other parent's virtual visit and don't hover. You wouldn't hover over every word during a regular visit, so don't eavesdrop on virtual visitation or lean over your child's shoulder to see what they're chatting about in private messages with their mom or dad.

An attorney can provide more information about child custody and virtual visits.

Source: FindLaw, "Virtual Visitation," accessed Sep. 14, 2017

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