Virtual visitation overview
Under Illinois law, a non-custodial parent is entitled reasonable visitation with his or her child unless a court has determined, after a hearing, that the visitation would endanger the child’s physical, mental, moral, or emotional health. Traditionally, visitation has meant in-person time spent between the child and a parent. However, the pervasive expansion of the internet and the rapid technological advances in electronic communication have resulted in “virtual visitation” becoming yet another option for expanding the contact between the non-custodial parent and the child. Virtual visitation (also known as electronic or e-visitation) involves parents interacting and communicating with their children from a distance using the myriad forms of electronic technology, including:
- internet or web-based video conferencing via webcam such as Skype
- video conferencing via a video phone text or instant messages
- Facebook and other social media interaction
- cell phone calls
Illinois law on virtual visitation
Effective January 2010, Illinois became the sixth state (joining Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin and Utah) to enact an electronic visitation statute.
While 750 ILCS 5/607(a)(1) initially defines visitation as “in-person time spent between a child and the child’s parent, it immediately expands that definition by adding that “in appropriate circumstances, it may include electronic communication under conditions and times determined by the court. 750 ILCS 5/607(a)(2) then codifies “electronic communication” to mean:
. . . time that a parent spends with his or her child during
which the child is not in the parent’s actual physical custody, but
which is facilitated by the use of communication tools such as the
telephone, electronic mail, instant messaging, video conferencing or
other wired or wireless technologies via the Internet, or other medium
Establishment of virtual visitation rights in any specific family law case is discretionary with the Court, not mandatory. Virtual visitation is intended to increase the frequency of a non-custodial contact with his child, thereby enhancing that parent’s involvement in the child’s life. As such virtual visitation is meant as a supplement to the physical visitation schedule and not as a substitute for it.
Guidelines for implementing virtual visitation
While the Illinois statute authorizes the court to include virtual or electronic visitation as part of a parent’s visitation rights, it is silent on important details associated with this type of visitation such as:
- what constitutes “appropriate circumstances” for implementing visitation through electronic communication
- the responsibility for the costs associated with establishing and maintaining the media used for the electronic visitation
- what efforts must the custodial parent make to facilitate the non-custodial parent’s electronic visitation
- specific guidelines concerning reasonable timing and length for electronic visitation
Whether virtual visitation is required as part of a court ordered visitation schedule or parents wish to include virtual visitation as part of their parenting time agreement, it is essential that standards for timing, length, cost, and other associated details be
clearly set forth in the order or agreement. Establishing specific rules for virtual visitation, and memorializing those rules in writing, can help to minimize conflicts, and potential litigation, concerning the parents’ virtual visitation rights.