By Gianna Huesch
There has been debate over the years on the positives and negatives of communication technologies like Skype and FaceTime to aid the parent-child relationship, but little empirical research to help guide family law practitioners and courts.
It is commonplace nowadays for courts to routinely make orders for children to have contact with each parent via internet technologies. In the absence of empirical data, however, it is difficult to know how the technologies actually influence the relationship between child and parent and whether they assist in maintaining bonds and relationships sufficiently to outweigh the potential negatives.
It is seen as self-evident that nothing can replace actual face-to-face contact, however in circumstances where distance is a factor, particularly internationally, the ease of facilitating communication via technology is a huge drawcard. Video calls are seen as ‘light years ahead of’ phone calls where child must interact with a disembodied voice. And these days, children can be very comfortable—even expert—with the use of modern video technologies.
The question remains though whether there is an unhealthy overreliance on communication technologies or a mistaken belief that the technology is sufficient to maintain a child’s relationship with a parent. Are courts seeing these technologies as an easier option, at the expense of requiring sometimes more difficult face-to-face time? Criticisms have included that the non-custodial parent misses out on participation in the child’s wider community and life and is limited to a narrow view of the child’s life as represented on a small screen. Further criticisms include the fact that there may be financial barriers to access, or that there is the potential for misuse in high conflict situations. There is also the issue of whether the video technology can cause interference in the custodial parent’s life, creating an “unhealthy feeling of inviting one parent into the home of the other when they are trying to move on because technology, such as video chatting, allows them to directly see into the household”. Issues relating to scheduling can also cause interference, especially if there is a different time zone. There are also obvious negatives with younger children in particular, who have short attention spans and may dislike sitting still in front of a screen to communicate.
In an attempt to make orders more evidence-based, one professor of social work in Canada is conducting research to examine the impact of internet technologies on the parent-child relationship during divorce and separation. While it will be possible to extrapolate the results to Australian parents and children to some extent, given the similarity in our societies, it would be useful for Australian researchers to conduct similar research to ensure decisions made here are evidence-based.
We previously wrote about the issue of virtual visitation here: https://www.familylawincanberra.com.au/family-law-in-canberra-child-custody-and-virtual-visitation-is-virtual-visitation-enough/
Do you need help with parenting arrangements or another family law matter? Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.
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