Berman & Asbel, LLP

Skype video can help in custody cases where parents live far apart

In situations where parents are separated or divorced and custody is shared in some way, there are a variety of arrangements.  Perhaps most commonly, one parent has the child most of the time and other has the child on a particularly schedule - commonly certain weekend, perhaps dinner during the week and various holidays and vacations.  When parents live in the same region, it is possible for the parent without primary custody to have frequent time with the child.  What happens, however, when the parent with primary physical custody wants to move far away?

Generally, it is required to obtain court approval to relocate children, particularly if it will be out of the state in which they are currently living.  The best procedure is for the relocating parent to petition for approval before making the move.  To simply get up and move may violate an existing court order.  If there is no existing court order, when the other parent brings the matter to court, the judge will likely not look favorably on a move having been made without prior agreement or court approval.

Courts generally consider it in the best interest of children, when possible, to have meaningful relationships with both parents.  If the parent with primary physical custody moves away, that will probably negatively impact the relationship with the other parent.  If the court is going to approve such a move, there will have to be a showing that this move is in the child's best interest.  There can be a number of reasons to justify the move such as obtaining a job that can provide a better standard of living, proximity to other family that can provide a support system to the custodial parent and more.  If a long-distance move will be approved, it is common for the court to require adjustments to provide as much time as reasonably possible with the other parent such as extended time during school vacations and on holidays.

The spread of 21st century communications technologies are opening up new possibilities.  In the New York state case of Baker v. Baker, a Suffolk County, NY judge ordered that a mother moving with the parties' children, ages 9 and 6, to Florida must, before moving, arrange at her own expense that the father will be able to have real-time video communication with the children via Skype.  The mother wanted to move to Florida so she and the children could live with her parents and hopefully there would be better job prospects.   The judge ordered that the father be able to video chat with the children at least 3 times per week and at least 1 hour per connection.

The mother in the Baker case was laid off from her bookkeeping job and remains unemployed.  The father is a recovering alcoholic and only has very low income.  The judge, Suffolk County, NY Supreme Court Justice Jerry Garguilo wrote:

"Common sense, logic and a realistic view of life on Long Island clearly indicate that the Petitioner and children cannot maintain a residence, heat, cloth themselves, provide for transportation and enjoy only the basic necessities on the monies that are currently available, The relocation is conditional. [T]he Petitioner will make the children available three times per week for not less than one hour per connection to communicate via Skype with their father." 

Readers should not solely rely on this note but should consult with a competent attorney licensed in their state. You can also find more information in my firm's websites on Family Law and Wills and Estate Planning and Administration.

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