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Virtual visitation and Massachusetts child custody

Advancing technology is demonstrating ongoing repercussions in Massachusetts family court as more agreements for child custody and visitation take email, text messaging and Internet conferencing into account. This type of visitation, known as virtual visitation, is becoming increasingly popular as a way of fostering stronger emotional bonds and allowing more parenting time in a nontraditional medium. While there is no defining doctrine for virtual visitation, there is no stipulation against such arrangements.

Proponents of virtual visitation consider it an invaluable addition to traditional custody arrangements, allowing parents and children to maintain close relationships beyond those laid out in a standard divorce decree. Among other benefits, parents can virtually attend dance recitals, concerts and other children's activities even when physical presence is not possible. It also allows parents to help children with homework, read bedtime stories and help the children's lives feel more normal.

Opponents point to possibilities such as parents using the availability and promise of virtual visitation to keep in contact with their children to persuade courts to permit relocation far beyond what the court might otherwise deem permissible. They also express concern that custodial parents may attempt to use virtual visitation as a replacement for in-person parenting time.

In a case where virtual visitation is being considered, an attorney may first look at whether and under what strictures regular physical visitation might be permitted by the courts. The attorney might then examine the motives for requesting virtual visitation of each party. Depending upon the circumstances, the attorney may need to clarify how virtual visitation functions under Massachusetts law. Finally, the attorney might include a virtual visitation addendum for perusal by both parties.

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