A judge in Britain just told a dad to deal with his kids moving to Australia with their mom by keeping in touch via Skype.
Having your kids move halfway around the world and being left with nothing but digital video calls to keep in touch with them seems pretty extreme. It’s easy to see why this case went through so many rounds: the mom desperately wants to move to Australia, and the dad just as desperately wants to keep his kids close.
I admit I’m surprised by the outcome. I wouldn’t have thought phone calls would be an acceptable stand-in for physical visitation time. The judge isn’t just making this up as he goes along, though. Digital visitation is becoming an increasingly common part of custody arrangements.
The idea is that families can use Skype, email, instant messaging, text messages and other modern technologies to stay in touch even when the parent and child are separated.
It makes sense. My family uses all these technologies to keep in touch. When I traveled to California, the kids Skyped with their dad every day that they were with me, and with me during the time they were with him. He and I use text messages to keep in touch about practical things and also to send each other cute pictures of what the kids are up to when one of us is away at work or doing errands. We email and IM with my stepson, who lives in Colorado most of the year with his mom.
But let’s be clear: those e-mail exchanges and on-line chats with my stepson in no way replace the time we actually get to spend with him. When she moved to Colorado, we lost a huge, irreplaceable part of our relationship with him. I don’t drive him to basketball games anymore, or help him with his homework. I’ve never met most of his friends. I don’t go to parent-teacher conferences. We can’t just decide on a whim to go for a family hike together this weekend.
Yes, we keep in touch. But his absence is real, and no amount of Skype is going to change it.
So why is digital visitation becoming so popular? I suspect that in many cases, it’s simply seen as the best solution when one parent has to move far away for a job or the like. For others, it’s part of a package. I have one divorced friend who sees his kids three days a week, but he still uses technology to communicate with them on the other days because he’s a very involved parent.
Have you used modern technology to keep in touch with your kids? Does it seem like an acceptable alternative to seeing them?