Virtual Visitation: What’s Considered Reasonable?
Virtual visitation through cell phones, texting, and video chat make it easier for divorced parents to stay in touch with their child when they’re apart. But the cheap and convenient communication has the potential to creep into the other parent’s visitation time.
Conflicts about virtual visitation and call time is ascending the top ten list of issues exes frequently bicker about. Believe it or not, you and your ex can lessen or even avoid this issue with proper planning.
Let’s examine how you can plan virtual visitation and avoid some of the common issues that create tension. If you’re already experiencing an issue, don’t worry, we’ll cover that, too.
Consider a Virtual Visitation Schedule
You and your ex may not want to limit calls or virtual communication. But there are many divorcing couples that are, or become, so angry they either want to restrict virtual visitation altogether or utilize it so much it interferes with the other parent’s custody.
So, before you enter a free-for-all virtual visitation situation, you may want to consider having a plan.
When divorcing parents fill out the form that is their go-to document regarding parental decision-making and custody arrangements for years to come, they’re asked about virtual visitation.
Here’s how it appears on the Colorado Parenting Plan sheet:
You may be tempted to check the first box, but, first, ask yourself, “What does ‘reasonable’ actually mean?” Perhaps more importantly, what do you think your soon-to-be ex thinks “reasonable” means?
One of Robinson & Henry’s family law attorneys says Parenting Plans are a “safety net” for divorced couples as questions and disagreements crop up.
Before you default to the pre-written provision let’s define “reasonable.”
How Colorado Courts Define Reasonable
Since Colorado’s Parenting Plan form doesn’t spell out the definition of “reasonable,” it’s up to divorcing spouses to interpret what that means.
What you consider to be totally reasonable phone call time may be completely unreasonable to your ex.
For instance, you think one call in the evening after dinner is perfectly acceptable. Your ex, on the other hand, insists you make the kids available, at all times: after they wake up, before they go to bed, when enjoying family game night, or during a meal.
The Court’s Definition
When phone call disputes end up in court, the judge asks:
- Do the phone calls disrupt the other party’s parenting time?
- What are the individual family dynamics?
Reasonable, as it relates to parental phone calls, is defined by the courts as calls that do not interfere with the other parent’s parenting time with the child.
That sounds pretty straight forward, but it rarely is. One parent may not think their calls interfere with parenting time, while the other parent insists they do.
When hearing such a case, the judge will also factor in the parenting time schedule, the child’s age, and their specific needs.
Here are a couple of scenarios:
Your six-year-old son is on a week on, week off parenting time schedule. Because of the child’s age and length of time away from each parent, a phone call every day would likely be considered reasonable.
Now, let’s say you only see your 10-year-old daughter every other weekend. A judge may not consider a phone call from your ex on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday during your weekend to be reasonable. The child is older, and you only see her a handful of days a month.
Man on the Street
Because even the court’s definition of reasonable isn’t black and white, judges use another test to provide more clarity to the question. It’s called the Reasonable Man Theory.
In other words, would the average person on the street who doesn’t know you think the number of phone calls and texts is reasonable?
If the answer is no, more than likely the judge will also agree.
Let’s explore some of the reasons parental phone call time can lead to arguments and a court battle.
What’s Really Driving Your Virtual Visitation?
You love your child. So, of course you want to stay in touch with them when they’re not with you. You wonder how they performed on a test or whether they’re feeling better after fighting a cold.
But, it’s not unheard of for these phone calls to be less altruistic, either right away or over time.
Legitimate feelings after divorce – fear, anger, jealousy, resentment, insecurity – can galvanize potentially harmful communication and disrupt parenting time.
Sometimes parents call or text because they are lonely, want the child to think about them, or want to irritate the former spouse.
“Mommy is so sad when you’re not here.”
“Your puppy sure does miss you. He’s moping around the house.”
On the flip side, some parents go to great lengths to keep their kid from virtual visitation with the other parent.
“Stop calling! This is my time with our son, not yours!”
“I’m entitled to speak with my child whenever I want.”
When Virtual Visitation Is Harmful
When phone calls and texts become so excessive they interfere with parenting time or create emotional issues for your child, a post-decree modification may be in order.
Virtual visitation should be pleasant and lighthearted, even if it’s difficult for you.
Your child should never feel guilty, sad, or stressed after telling you goodbye.
Avoid Conflict with a Virtual Visitation Provision
First and foremost, the communication you have with your child when they’re with the other parent should always be in the child’s best interest.
As you and the other party discuss a plan, consider:
Age and maturity often dictate how often your child needs and wants to talk to you. Young children may need to speak with you daily, while older children may only want to catch up a few days a week. Teens, well, you may leave it to them to call you.
Parenting time schedule
The length of time a child is away from each parent plays a role in communication frequency. Kids who see their parents every couple of days may not need daily phone calls. On the flip side, longer stretches apart may necessitate more frequent phone calls and video time.
Children with special needs may require a more regimented call schedule tailored to their specific circumstances. Also, some young children may benefit from talking or video chatting more often until they settle into the new way of life.
Sample Virtual Visitation Plans
- The child will be available nightly between 7:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. to speak with their parent.
- The child is free to call or text anytime. The parent may call the child every other day between 8:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
Keep in mind, there will be times when your child simply won’t be around to take a scheduled call; maybe you’ve planned an evening at the movies or a sporting event runs long. You may consider including a clause that addresses missed calls.
The call back plan may indicate the child will phone the parent as soon as they become available, or, perhaps more specifically, within one hour of becoming available.
Outlining how return calls will be handled can reduce knee-jerk reactions from the calling party.
Again, a specific virtual visitation plan can curb problems before they begin, even if you think you won’t need it.
Remember, Parenting Plans are your safety net when things go awry.
The Virtual Visitation Takeaway
In most cases, children benefit from ongoing contact with both parents, including texts, phone calls, and video chat. But, keep realistic expectations about your virtual visitation.
Try not to take it personally if your child isn’t totally engaged in the conversation. Perhaps they just got home from soccer practice and are getting ready for bed or maybe they’re simply a moody ‘tween.
It’s perfectly acceptable to keep phone calls short with, “I just wanted say hi and that I love you.” Being confident in your relationship with your child goes a long way to making the most out of phone time.
When parents keep their child top of mind, virtual visitation can maintain or strengthen the parent-child relationship. It may even improve your co-parenting efforts.
Virtual Visitation is Already a Problem
Issues with phone calls can happen with or without a specific plan. Court orders, like Parenting Plans, are broken all the time – sometimes deliberately, sometimes unintentionally.
It’s the deliberate, on-going oversteps that wreak havoc on parenting time and emotional well-being.
The most obvious examples of unreasonable communication are:
- Preventing a child from talking to a parent despite a court order.
- Making excessive calls that significantly disrupt a party’s parenting time.
Examples of Unreasonable Communication Efforts:
Refusing to Abide by the Parenting Plan
During the divorce, the two of you agreed a phone call every other day would be appropriate for your child. Now one party cannot stick to the Parenting Plan.
The incessant texts and video calls are beginning to make your child feel obligated to always be by the phone. It’s also hindering them from enjoying their time with you.
Ignoring Requests to Call at More Convenient Times
The parent calls numerous times a day demanding to speak to the child despite what is going on at that moment.
An example of this would be excessively calling during typical daily routines – eating, homework, bedtime routine – and refusing to budge until they speak with the child.
Using Virtual Visitation to Manipulate the Child
A common example is a parent constantly telling the child how sad or lonely they are when they’re away, resulting in an upset child. Another instance would be a parent repeatedly expressing anger or disappointment when the child doesn’t answer a text message or pick up the phone when they are with the other parent.
This behavior is typical of an alienating parent, and these tactics can lead to parental alienation.
Denying a Parental Court-Ordered Call Time
Telling a parent the child is already asleep and they’ll return the call in the morning is not unreasonable. Consistently refusing to allow the child to speak with their parent when it’s allowed per the Parenting Plan is disobeying a court order.
Our Family Law Attorneys Can Help
If you believe virtual visitation is seriously interfering with your parenting time, the family law attorneys at Robinson & Henry may be able to help you.
You deserve peace so you can enjoy meaningful time with your child. Likewise, if you’re child is being kept from you, we will do what we can to protect your rights.
We can also assist with reaching a common ground on an appropriate virtual visitation schedule.
Robinson & Henry offers free initial consultation. Schedule yours online or call (303) 688-0944 to set up time to speak with one of our family law attorneys.