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What is Virtual Visitation, Does it Apply in Arizona?

Virtual visitation describes electronic communication between a non-custodial parent and a child used primarily when geographical distance separates family members. The term and concept developed in 1997 when a divorced mother requested the court’s permission to move out of state because of financial hardship. Concern for a continuing relationship between the child and the non-custodial father gave rise to courts and parents ensuring relationship continuity using various forms of long distance communication.

Relocation and Visitation

Custodial parents may desire relocating to another city, state or country for employment opportunities, the convenience of living within close proximity to family or because of an impending or recent marriage. If the court allows the move, parental visitation alters depending on the distance created between the child and the other parent. Visitation also varies according to the age of the child. Though highly encouraged and mandated for the child’s benefit, courts do not consider virtual visitation justification for the relocation of a custodial parent.

When distance inhibits children from spending the same amount of physical time with the non-custodial parent, virtual visitation supplements for the loss by providing a means of continuous contact. In addition to conventional phone calls, parents and children may maintain contact and communication with each other by talking or texting over a cell phone or sending and receiving email. Families might also converse through audio/visual/ textual options available using webcams, instant messaging services or Skype. Virtual visitation does not replace or eliminate physical visitation between the parent and child.

Virtual Visitation Legislation

Utah passed the first virtual visitation law in 2004. In 2006, Wisconsin became the second state with virtual visitation laws. Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Illinois followed suit. Other states currently have pending legislation involving electronic visitation. While not prohibited, Arizona currently does not have virtual visitation rights laws in effect. When creating legislature, each state adopts individual regulations and stipulations concerning visitation via electronic devices. Courts also take individual cases into consideration when addressing visitation privileges.

With legislation, states may have the right to determine the monetary limits of acceptable equipment and expenses acquired by either or both parents for virtual visitation. In the event of known physical or psychological abuse, states might establish provisions that prevent harm to the child by prohibiting communication or only permitting supervised communication. In each divorce case, judges make the final determination with respect to child custody and visitation. Courts having states with virtual visitation laws in effect are more likely to encourage electronic communication.

Benefits of Virtual Communication

Whether separated by physical distance or other circumstances that prevent physical visitation, virtual technology enables communication between a child and a non-custodial parent. Divorce often creates confusion, pain and suffering for the children involved, especially if the event denies children access to both parents. Virtual visitation establishes a solid foundation of caring by helping to reassure children of the presence of both parents. Having continuing contact with the other parent provides youngsters with emotional and psychological well-being and strengthens the relationship between the two.

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