Florida divorce and custody battles can impact the parent-child relationship and often raise concerns for both mother and father. Often, parties are concerned that since they may not see their child on a daily basis that the relationship with their child will lessen over time. While telephone communication is vital to maintaining the relationship with the parent and child, a parent that lives long distance from the child, especially, may miss the face-to-face interaction and want more than simple phone calls. With the invention of webcams and communication availability through things such as Skype, the courts have had to evolve to include such mechanisms. As a Jacksonville, Florida divorce and family lawyer I often ask my clients if they have access to the internet and whether the computer has webcam accessibility because I want to make certain that if video conferencing is available, that we request the court enter an order for electronic communication.
In accordance with Florida statute 61.13003, the Court may look at a number of factors before ruling on the use of electronic communication. Some of the factors include but are not limited to the availability of the equipment to both parties; whether the parties can afford the electronics necessary; the incomes of the parties to determine who should be responsible and how for the costs; whether telephone communication; whether there is a substance abuse issue of a parent; and if it is in the best interest of the child to have such communication.
If the court finds that electronic communication is in the best interest of the child, then the court also may impose safeguards to protect the parent and child from abuse of the electronic communication. There are concerns for safety online, so the Court has the discretion to impose rules on where the communication may occur, what time, etc.
So as not to be tricked into an issue with the courts, the Florida legislature went one step further with Florida Statute 61.13003(7), which states, “The extent or amount of time that electronic communication with the child is ordered under s. 61.13 may not be used as a factor when the court calculates child support.” This is to prevent a parent from interpreting time on the Internet, which may be by webcam, as time-sharing or visitation for purposes of child support calculations. Electronic communication is simply a tool that can be used to help facilitate the parent-child relationship when that parent cannot be with the child physically, it is not meant to replace or substitute for visitation.
If the court orders electronic communication, then the parent that sets up the child’s account must provide the other with all contact information for the child. The other parent must also provide all access information to his or her account for the benefit of the child. Utilizing these tools can helpful in the parent-child relationship, especially in long distance situations or when a parent is deployed or on active military duty. However, if you do not request that the court enter such an order, it is not automatic. If you have a prior order that does not allow for such communication, the court will allow you to request it without having to show a substantial change in circumstance like you would normally for a modification of a prior order.