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April 18th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
A blog at the Washington Times is happily promoting the wonders of “virtual visitation” for non-custodial parents whose children have been taken to another city/state/country by the custodial parent.  Read about it here (Washington Times, 4/15/12).  Put simply, virtual visitation (via email, Facebook, Skype, etc.)  is one of the worst ideas to come along in a while.

The article is far too upbeat to mention it, but any suggestion that virtual visitation is acceptable as parent/child contact is yet another frank attempt to separate fathers from their children.  That’s because the overwhelming majority of non-custodial parents are fathers – about 83% at last count.  In her enthusiasm for virtual visitation, the Times writer neglects to mention that fact as well.

But to be clear, virtual visitation is an effort to relieve mothers of the inconvenience of actually including fathers in the lives of their children.  Over the past several years, states have been taking a closer look at requests by custodial parents to move away from the non-custodial one.  Not so very long ago, custody orders often contained no restriction on move-aways at all.  If Mom wanted to move and take the kids, she did, and if that made it hard or impossible for Dad to see them, well, that was his tough luck, and theirs.

In response to fathers’ rights advocates, some states cracked down on the practice, albeit gently.  Courts now routinely require that Mom convince the court that there’s a good reason why she needs to further deprive the children of their father and be given leave to do so.  Now, often that only means she has to tell the court that not being allowed to move would upset or inconvenience her in some way or that her finances would suffer, but still, she has to make her case, and occasionally, the move-away request is denied.

Enter virtual visitation.  It’s a response to the increased ability of fathers to stop move-aways.  The very concept that a father can parent via social media is so obviously flawed as to need no further comment.  That said, it’s still used by judges to assuage whatever guilt they may feel about allowing a mother to utterly deprive her children of their father.  As an example, here’s a piece I did about a mother who convinced an English court that she needed to take the children to Australia with the Dad remaining behind in England.

I’m all for mothers being able to freely move wherever and whenever they like.  But when they throw in the “taking the kids” part, I balk.  If being prevented from moving is too traumatic for her, the simple answer is to change custody to the dad.  That way, she could get her wish to move, but Dad wouldn’t lose his children.  Likewise, it would make the parent desiring to move away bear the consequences of doing so. 

Or, failing that, they should be with Dad, say, all summer and all of each holiday.  Whatever the arrangement, it needs to include real parenting time, enough to balance the kids’ complete absence during what was originally his time with them.  Viewing and talking to them on Skype is just not good enough.  It has nothing to do with parenting; it has nothing to do with shared experiences; it has nothing to do with confidences, parental guidance, discipline or physical touching. 

Any mother who claims it does should try it sometime.  As a matter of fact, that would be a good counterproposal for any father to make who’s confronted with a move-away request – switch custody to me and Mom can visit the kids on Skype.  If she agrees, so much the better; if she doesn’t, the question arises why she claims the arrangement is OK for him, but unacceptable to her.

The excuses for separating fathers from children and children from fathers keep coming.  None of them holds up to scrutiny, and virtual visitation is another example.

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