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Child visitation via virtual technology

 

The importance of parent-child visitation rights even when living in a different country or far away from your child. Recognition of modern day communication platforms such as video calling, webcams and Skype by a court of law in South Africa when determining and granting child visitation rights.

Mom, dad and the children out in the park.

How does a parent exercise contact to his/her child when living in a different country? It is important for a parent to continue exercising contact with a child after a break-up in a relationship, even if living in a different country.

Skype, BBM messaging, emails, SMSs and telephonic communications are all ways of communicating when living in a different country. Technology is so advanced these days that living in a different country from your child can work. You can even see your child through a webcam if necessary.

In our case law there are various examples of situations where exercise of contact through Skype was made part of the court order. In Central Authority of the Republic of South Africa and Another v LG 2011(2) SA 386 (GWP), for example, and HS v WS 2012 JDR 1066 (GNP), contact via Skype was made part of the court order.

In HS v WS the court order stated that the parents each had to install an internet landline at his/her home to allow for this type of communication. It was agreed that Skype would be loaded on the minor children’s iPod device. In terms of the court order the defendant was allowed Skype contact with the minor children every Saturday at certain hours. The court urged that the mother encourage the children to correspond with the father.

Use of virtual visitation started in the United States. Certain states even have laws allowing a court to make an order which incorporates virtual visitation, where it is in the best interests of the child. In my opinion any form of contact between parent and child should be encouraged and allowed by our courts.

South Africa, has always been referred to as a “third world country”, because we lag behind the so-called “first world” countries when it comes to issues of technology. I think we should really have some form of legislature put in place, as in countries such as the United States, allowing for virtual visitation to be made a court order.

Whilst most of my clients are South African citizens living in South Africa, I have a good number of clients who are currently based abroad, but who have a child living in South Africa with the ex. I communicate with most of them via email with the occasional phone call. They miss their children dearly and are often restricted to communication with a child through the internet.

The worst situation for a person to be in is one where no communication is allowed with the child by the parent with whom the child is living with. This often happens out of bitterness or in a situation where one parent is not paying maintenance or one parent has moved on in his/her life. Contact to a child should never ever be denied by one parent, no matter what the circumstances, unless in extreme situations, for example, where there has been some form of abuse.

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