The “Virtual Visitation” Trap
Virtual visitation is the latest custody-related family law fad. California family law courts are issuing virtual visitation orders in lieu of face-to-face visitations where face-to-face visitations are feasible, albeit inconvenient. This is not good. Virtual visitation orders should only be issued where in-person child visitations are not possible.
Admittedly, virtual visitation helps people like deployed military personnel who have no control over their deployments and work locations keep in touch with their families back home. In some cases it is the only medium through which a very young child is able to know the removed parent at all. In such cases, virtual visitation orders allow non-custodial parents and children to have a “virtual relationship”, which is better than none at all.
The current euphoria over virtual visitation is illustrated by an online article entitled “Virtual Visitation Helps Maintain Strong Parent-Child Relationships”. Unfortunately, this article, which is a press release written by a family law firm soliciting business, cites no scientific evidence to support its position. In truth, virtual visitations do NOT help maintain strong parent-child relationships. Family law is plagued by unexamined fads (like Judith S. Wallerstein’s wholly discredited single, primary parent theory)–and families across the country continue to be destroyed by these dysfunctional notions about human nature. Virtual visitations stand to be the next great destroyer of the American family unless its use is reserved for cases in which face-to-face visitation is impossible.
Under what circumstances, then, should courts refuse to replace face-to-face visitations with virtual visitations? First of all, courts must acknowledge that at some point allowing children to watch television, play video games and otherwise stare at a screen is detrimental to children. Secondly, convenience, personal preference, interference with a child’s normal schedule, and similar excuses should never be accepted by a court as reasons for substituting virtual visitations for face-to-face visitations. This is true regardless of whether the custodial or non-custodial parent is requesting virtual visitation. Thirdly, virtual visitations should not be used by the custodial parent to purposely limit face-to-face time between the child and the non-custodial parent. Fourthly, in the eyes of a parent who might otherwise have been awarded actual physical visitation time, or a parent who’s ex-spouse already allows unlimited online interaction without a court mandate, an award of “virtual visitation” is effectively an award of no visitation.
More fundamentally, the word “visitation” itself connotes physical presence. Seeing an image of your parent or your child on a computer screen is not any different from looking at a photograph or home movie. The addition of sound allows the parties to interact and carry on a conversation–just like a phone. If talking on the phone to your child is not considered in-person visitation, and watching a movie of a child’s school play isn’t considered in-person visitation, then why would a video chat be considered a substitute for face-to-face, in-person visitations?
Beneath these obvious misuses of virtual visitation lies a deeper, far more subversive problem. This problem was first identified by Marshall McLuhan in 1964 and is discussed in an article on this site entitled “Is 'Virtual Visitation' Visitation?”.
Until a computer can simulate the feeling of a hug or a kiss goodnight, or replace a well-brushed baby tooth that is put under a child’s pillow, by definition, “virtual visitation” is not visitation. Ask any child.
Click here to read more on the subject in the article "Is 'Virtual Visitation' Visitation?".