What is Virtual Visitation in Colorado?

Marlana Caruso
By: Marlana Caruso
PublishedMar 13, 2024
6 minute read

Divorce with children has its own challenges and opportunities in the digital age. The ubiquity of smartphones, texting, social media, and video chatting allows children and parents to stay in touch daily. This should be a good thing. However, in the context of divorce, electronic communication between parents and children can present real problems. What is virtual visitation in Colorado? And, what can you do when digital communication interferes with your parental rights?

Bottom Line: 

“Virtual visitation” is a form of child visitation that requires the use of technology to communicate over long distances. However, its success depends on co-parents using it responsibly. Prioritizing the child’s feelings and following a schedule can reduce conflict and enhance the benefits of digital interaction.

Understanding virtual visitation and what to do when it goes wrong.

The Importance of a Virtual Visitation Plan 

In Colorado, virtual visitation may be included in court orders or agreed upon independently by parents. Colorado has no specific laws governing virtual visitation, however, family law judges may approve it when appropriate. Digital communication  can even be an official part of the parenting plan, as long as it’s in the child’s best interests. — Colorado Revised Statutes 14-10-124

Virtual visitation may be necessary under certain circumstances, such as when:

  • a parent and the child are physically too far apart.
  • one parent is away for work.
  • the child wants more communication with the non-custodial parent.
  • a situation, such as a pandemic, requires less in-person contact.

Creating a Virtual Visitation Schedule 

At first, limiting calls and communication with your kids during a divorce may seem unnecessary, or even unhelpful. Daily contact with both parents can, at times, make the process easier on the child(ren). Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

One parent, driven by animosity, may try to restrict or misuse digital access to disrupt the other’s parenting time. The other, in retaliation, may do the same when the shoe is on the other foot. When co-parents use access to the children to hurt each other, nobody wins — especially not the children.

Unfortunately, there’s a variety of underhanded ways a co-parent can misuse electronic communication with the kids to:

  • spy on the other parent,
  • call or text the child outside of reasonable hours
  • manipulate, entice, or intimidate the child(ren),
  • disrupt the other parent’s time with the children, and even
  • alienate the child(ren) from the other parent. (Hyperlink 3)

It is wise to establish an agreed-upon, court-enforceable virtual visitation plan and schedule early on. This way, both co-parents (and their older children) understand where the normal boundaries are. Naturally, in times of emergency or prolonged family crisis, the virtual visitation plan can be relaxed or adjusted.

The Significance of a Phone Access Plan 

With no clear plan in place, virtual parenting time can become a constant battleground. Disputes over call times and digital access are already a common issue that co-parents fight over. Creating a phone plan ensures that children maintain a consistent, loving connection with both parents.

The first step to creating a “phone plan” is completing the Colorado Parenting Plan sheet. It is the go-to document for parental decision-making.

Question No. 10 on the form concerns Phone Access. It gives parents two choices, but they can pick “all that apply.”

  • Box 1: The parents (parties) may have reasonable phone contact with the child(ren) during the child(ren)’s normal waking hours, or
  • Box 2: Details or other arrangements, with two blank lines allowing the parent to describe a more structured phone plan.

The key word in the first option is “reasonable,” and it’s best to understand what that means before checking either of the boxes.

Understanding ‘Reasonable’ in Virtual Visitation 

The term ‘reasonable’ can be a minefield in the context of phone calls, texting, and video chats. Neither Colorado’s lawmakers nor its courts have specifically defined “reasonable phone access.” Rather, when it comes to determining ‘reasonable’ access to a child by a non-custodial parent, courts consider many factors, including:

  • the best interests of the child,
  • the age of the child,
  • the individual family dynamics,
  • the parenting time schedule,
  • the circumstances of the co-parents, and
  • the potential for infringement on family privacy.

It’s best for co-parents to reach a mutual understanding of what constitutes reasonable, allowable phone contact. The resulting call schedule should be considerate of the child’s routines, while also respecting each party’s parenting time.

Consider The Following Two Scenarios 

Where is the line between appropriate and non-appropriate virtual visitation? It depends.

Scenario One: A 6 Year-Old Boy

You and your ex share parenting time and decision-making authority over your six-year-old son. The boy spends equal amounts of time with each parent. During the time you have him, the other parent calls every day right before bedtime and the calls last about 10 minutes. This might irk you. However, considering the boy’s age, a phone call a day seems reasonable.

Scenario Two: A 10 Year-Old Girl 

You and your ex share a 10-year-old daughter, but you only get her every other weekend. That’s a precious handful of days each month. Still, your ex calls the girl on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday during your weekends and keeps her on the phone for at least an hour each time right before your family dinner. This not only interrupts your time with your daughter, but a court would likely consider this unreasonable.

A Virtual Visitation Plan Reduces Conflict 

Neither co-parent should want a court to decide how much contact with their child is reasonable. Adults who care about their children should be able to work this out. The communication you have with your child when they’re with the other parent should always be in the child’s best interests.

Discuss a virtual access plan with your ex, considering the following:

  • Your Child’s Age and Maturity: Younger children can benefit from short, daily conversations with the away parent. Older children probably don’t need daily check-ins. Teenagers can decide on their own when to initiate contact.
  • The Parenting Time Schedule: Children who alternate residences frequently may not need daily calls. In fact, as they get older, they might appreciate the break. However, when the children are away for longer periods — a summer, a school term, even a month — more virtual visitation is warranted.
  • Special Needs: Children with special needs might require a structured calling, chatting routine. Younger children coming to terms with the divorce could also benefit from frequent digital communication.
Sample Virtual Visitation Plans 
  1. The child is available to speak with the non-residential parent every night between 7:30 and 8:00 p.m.
  2. The child may call or text their non-residential parent at any time. But the non-residential parent is scheduled to call the child every other day between 8:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.

Sometimes your child may not be available for a scheduled call. Unforeseen activities and other planned events may conflict with the pre-arranged time, or even run long. Consider adding a clause that addresses missed calls.

Call-Back Plans 

Proactive virtual visitation planning can prevent issues and minimize impulsive responses. When a call is missed, the child should call the away parent back as soon as possible, or within an hour of availability.

When Virtual Visitation Goes Wrong 

While having a plan in place can minimize problems, it does not guarantee that co-parents will stick to it. Problems can still occur due to unintentional, or even intentional, violations.

Deliberate breaches of the virtual visitation plan can disrupt parenting time and affect the child’s emotional health.

Examples of Unreasonable Communication 

Non-compliance with Parenting Plan: Despite agreeing to a reasonable phone access plan, your child’s other parent ignores it. They might overwhelm your child with calls and texts, diminishing the quality time reserved for you.

Ignoring Suitable Timing: The other parent calls at their own convenience, disregarding typical daily routines such as meals, homework, and bedtime.

Manipulative Communication: One parent uses their virtual visitation access to emotionally exploit the child. Some examples:

  • telling the child how sad and lonely they feel when the child is with the other parent,
  • making the child feel guilty for having fun with the other parent and their family,
  • getting angry at the child for not answering calls or messages quickly enough,
  • telling the child how much fun they’re missing while they’re away from them, and
  • using contact with the child to keep tabs on their ex.

Denying Court-Ordered Calls: We’ve already discussed that scheduled calls can be missed on occasion due to certain circumstances. However, consistently refusing to allow the child to speak with the other parent violates the court-ordered parenting plan. If the problem persists, they may be in contempt of court.

Although occasionally declining a call for a valid reason is acceptable, consistently preventing communication that’s allowed by the court is not.

The Virtual Visitation Takeaway

The emotional well-being of the child is paramount in any virtual visitation plan. No matter the medium — texting, phone calls, or video chats — it should be a positive experience. Your child should look forward to, and feel comforted by, these electronic interactions.

If the child is instead burdened with anxiety over digital communication, you’re doing it wrong. To keep the experience positive, keep expectations realistic. For example:

  • Don’t take it personally if your child isn’t totally engaged in the conversation: Kids get busy with school activities. They get tired before bed and even go through moody phases. Call times may interrupt other fun activities they were already engaged in.
  • Keep calls short now and then: It’s totally fine to simply tell your kid that you love them and just wanted to say ‘hi.’ Being confident in your relationship with the child can be even more reassuring than a longer call.

It’s important to foster a virtual relationship that is supportive, not invasive. As long as both co-parents prioritize the child’s feelings, virtual visitation can be a big advantage for all involved.

Get Help with Virtual Visitation

You have the right to peaceful, quality time with your children. If access is an issue, it’s crucial to assert your rights. Our seasoned family law attorneys are here to help you find a solution. Call us at 303-688-0944 for a case assessment.

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