“Virtual Visitation”…A New Trend?

It appears that technology is making its way into Canadian family Court cases.  Traditionally, when one parent has day to day care of a child, the other parent has visitation, which can be specified times in a Court Order or Agreement, or regular visits as arranged between the parents.  Of course, one typically thinks of visitation as a time when a parent and child are together in person for a dinner visit, a weekend, a holiday, etc.  However, with mobility cases becoming more common, the definition of visitation may be changing.

Mobility cases are cases where the parent with day to day care of the child seeks to move to another city or another jurisdiction with the child.  The Court has to determine whether or not that move is in the best interests of the child, and in making a decision the Court will look at the relationship the child has with the parent who is the visitation parent, relationships with extended family, the age of the child, etc.  Typically these moves are motivated by the custodial parent having a new job to go to, or a new marriage where the spouse resides elsewhere, or other compelling factors.  One of the issues the Court must address in a mobility case is, if the Court does allow the move, what will visitation look like between the child and the non-custodial parent?  This is where the term “virtual visitation” is being introduced.  Courts are now making Orders such as “reasonable telephone and webcam access”, or allowing a move on the condition that virtual visits take place twice a week between the child and their mother or father via computer.  Of course, the Court must always consider primarily what is in the best interests of the child.  In a recent Ontario decision, the Judge denied the mother permission to move from Ontario to New Zealand with the parties’ daughter, despite the mother’s assurances that video technology would allow her daughter regular “visits” with her father.  The Court said that “the time difference alone will mean that the child’s contact with [her father] will be at awkward hours, either for the child or for the parent, and would necessitate a complicated schedule”.

While in certain cases this virtual visitation may be necessary as a means of maintaining some type of contact, of course it will never be a substitute for physical visitation, including those face to face supper visits, weekends, family holidays, etc.

For more information on this topic, or to discuss the consequences of a breakdown of marriage, or relationship, contact Pushor Mitchell Lawyers.

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