As the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic forced people indoors, digital communication shot to the forefront of our daily routines. Technological advances like Skype, FaceTime, text messaging, and email have made it possible for parents to forge close connections with their children even if they live far apart. Texas is one of the few states that allow virtual visitation between parents and their children. But as with in-person visits, virtual visits have rules. Read this article to find out more about reasonable virtual visitation in Texas.
Texas Virtual Visitation Laws
In 2007, Texas became the third U.S. state to incorporate virtual visitation into its child custody laws. Texas courts can order “reasonable periods” of electronic communication to augment a parent’s physical visitation with their child.
What is Considered Electronic Communication?
For purposes of Texas law, electronic communication refers to “any communication facilitated by the use of any wired or wireless technology via the Internet or any other electronic media.” Texas Family Code § 153.015
This includes phone calls, text messages, email, instant messaging, video calls, or webcams.
Determining Reasonable Virtual Visitation in Texas
When deciding whether to award virtual visitation, Texas courts will consider:
- whether electronic communication is in the child’s best interests,
- whether equipment to facilitate virtual visitation is reasonably available to all involved parties; and
- any other factor the court considers appropriate.
Tex. Fam. Code § 153.015
Virtual Visitation Cannot Replace In-Person Visits
Virtual visitation is not meant to replace in-person parenting time — only supplement it:
The availability of electronic communication under this section is not intended as a substitute for physical possession of or access to the child where otherwise appropriate. Tex. Fam. Code § 153.015
Furthermore, courts cannot consider the availability of electronic communication as a factor in determining a parent’s child support obligations.
Virtual Visitation Cannot Interrupt the Other Parent’s Time
The electronic communication between the parent who is not in possession of the children must not unduly disrupt a scheduled activity for which that parent has received prior notice. In re Callaway, 2020 Tex. Dist. LEXIS 2753, *34
For example, let’s say you have dinner reservations at a new restaurant for your birthday. You have notified your child’s other parent of the date and time of your reservation. Your co-parent cannot call, text, or Skype your child during that time.
Texas Virtual Visitation Guidelines
If virtual visitation is part of your court order, each parent must:
- provide the other parent with the child’s e-mail address and other electronic communication access information,
- notify the other parent of any change in the e-mail address or other electronic communication access information no more than 24 hours after the change takes effect; and
- if the necessary equipment is reasonably available, accommodate electronic communication with the child, with the same privacy, respect, and dignity accorded all other forms of access, at a reasonable time and for a reasonable duration subject to any limitations in the court order.
Tex. Fam. Code § 153.015
What if the Other Parent Has Committed Family Violence?
In family violence cases, including if one parent has supervised visitation, Texas courts may still award virtual visitation if both parents agree to the terms.
Additionally, the terms must be printed in the court order in boldfaced, CAPITALIZED type and include any specific restrictions relating to family violence or supervised visitation. Tex. Fam. Code § 153.015
What is Considered Reasonable Virtual Visitation in Texas?
The court will consider the child’s age and needs, as well as each parent’s ability to make the child available for virtual visitation.
An electronic communications order may limit the number of times a parent can talk to their child per day. The order may also limit how long the conversations can last. This is done so as not to interfere with the other parent’s time with the child.
Parents should not use this virtual visitation time to relay messages to the other parent. Involving children in adult conversations is never a good idea.
Let Us Help You Create a Solid Parenting Plan with Virtual Visitation
If you are unable to see your child face-to-face because of military service or a demanding career, virtual visitation can help fill that void. A family law attorney can help you create a parenting plan that allows for reasonable virtual visitation in Texas without infringing on the other parent’s rights. Call 214-884-3775 today to begin your free case assessment. Call 214-884-3775 today to begin your free case assessment.