Does FaceTime Count as Visitation?
During the pandemic, videoconferencing tools like FaceTime and Zoom have helped us stay in touch with our children and other faraway family members. Despite the lifting of health measures and restrictions, many of us will continue using this technology long into the future. If you’re a noncustodial parent of children in Texas, you might wonder if it’s possible to use videoconferencing for visitations. Texas has recently enacted statutes covering when and how virtual visitations can take place, and in this blog post, we’ll give you an overview of the laws and procedures you need to know.
What Is a Virtual Visit?
According to Section 153.015 of the Texas Family Code, a virtual visit constitutes any form of “electronic communication” between a parent and their child. The communication is synchronous, and the parent and child are not physically present in the same space. Virtual visits may involve:
- FaceTime calls
- Zoom or Teams meetings
- Phone calls
- Text messages or IMs
When Might Virtual Visitation Be Granted?
As with in-person forms of visitation, you must ask a court for virtual visitation rights. As the court weighs your request, they must first and foremost consider the child’s best interest according to Family Code section 153.002. Courts will also examine the following additional circumstances in making their decision:
- Accessibility to technology – Do both the parent and the child have access to the equipment they need to conduct virtual visits? If access to technology is a barrier for either the parent or the child, virtual visiting may not be ideal.
- Family schedule – Would allowing virtual visits be beneficial considering the child’s time and routine? Would virtual visits lower the barriers to the parent “attending” events that are important to the child?
- Distance between parent and child – How far is the distance separating the parent and child? If the distance is long, virtual visits may be beneficial.
- Special needs – Does either party to the visitation have special needs that a virtual visit would better accommodate?
- Supervision – Do the virtual visits need supervision? If so, how should it work?
The judge may deem that virtual visits would be detrimental to the child’s wellbeing in certain situations. For example, they may deny the request if the parent has a history of abuse, neglect, violence, or substance abuse.
It’s important to note that virtual visitation is not meant to be the exclusive form of court-sanctioned access a child has to their noncustodial parent. While virtual visits can remove barriers to contact between parents and children, healthy in-person contact is just as important. The judge will determine the proper balance between different modes of visitation as they prepare their order.
What Happens After a Judge Grants Virtual Visitation?
After the court approves the request, there are a few things each parent must do to proceed, including:
- Read and carefully understand the order – Each party should be clear on when they are available for visitation within the guidelines the court sets.
- Share contact information – Each parent should be on the same page with the emails, phone numbers, addresses, and other information necessary to host or access the virtual visitation space of their choice. If a parent’s contact information changes, the law requires them to share the new information with the other parent within 24 hours.
- Obtain any remaining equipment you need – If it’s determined the child or parent needs additional equipment for virtual visits, the family must figure out what is needed and how they will pay for it.
Once the virtual visit is in progress, it is between the noncustodial parent and the child. The other parent must not intervene by cutting in on conversations or denying the child access to court-approved visitations.
What Should I Do to Protect My Rights?
After you receive virtual visitation privileges, it’s important to ensure that the terms of the court order are followed fairly. You should keep a log of when and for how long your virtual visits occurred.
If the other parent intervenes or regularly denies you access to virtual visits, log this information as well. Keep evidence, such as calls, text messages, or other transcripts, that would indicate a breach of the court’s set visitation terms. Many times, parents can work out violations of a visitation order between themselves. However, if the other parent remains uncooperative after you tried to work with them, you and your legal team may be able to ask for the court’s help to enforce the agreement.
Contact a Virtual Visitation Lawyer Today
If you’re considering making a virtual visitation request or need assistance with an existing virtual visitation order in Greater Houston, the Woodlands divorce and family law attorneys of BB Law Group PLLC are ready to fight for your parental rights. Call us today at (832) 534-2589 for a consultation. Our results speak for themselves.