New Law Regarding Electronic Communications Between a Parent and a Child

On October 1, 2007, new law was added to the Florida Statutes (Section 61.13003), entitled “Court-ordered electronic communication between a parent and a child.” There has been very little case law on this subject previously.

The new law directly affects child custody/visitation cases that are pending as of October 1, 2007, in which a court order on the subject of electronic communications between parent and child has not previously been entered. In other words, if there is an order that predates October 1, 2007, dealing with the subject of electronic communications between parent and child, the new statute will not directly affect that order.

However, the new law does provide for relatively simple modification of existing orders which do not prohibit such communication. For instance, parents who are not currently able to have electronic communication (i.e. telephone calls, e-mail, web cams, etc.) with their children due to the reluctance of the other parent to allow it, may be able to get the court to modify the existing order to allow for electronic communication. Ordinarily, modification of a custody order requires that one must prove a significant change in circumstances, but the new statute specifically excludes that requirement for this purpose.

In cases which have not yet had court orders entered on the subject of visitation, the new statute provides some powerful tools to either obtain such rights or to defend against them in appropriate circumstances.

Bottom line: One of the major features of the new law is that a presumption is created that in this day of commonplace use and availability of electronic communications, it is in our children’s best interests to be able to have electronic communications with both parents. Of course, such electronic contact is only a supplement to face-to-face contact and is not intended to replace or serve as a substitute for face-to-face visitation. Each parent should encourage and, if necessary, assist each child in receiving e-mail, text messages, or other forms of electronic communication from the other parent.

Each parent should provide the other with access information necessary to facilitate electronic communication. Each parent should be instructed to notify the other parent of any change in the access information within 7 days of the change.

Finally, cost and availability of electronic communications should be considered by the court, and the cost can be allocated between the parents in appropriate circumstances. The court must also take into account a history of substance abuse or domestic violence, as well as other factors that the court deems important. The fact that such electronic communication is available is not a factor in determining the right to relocate a child, and it is not a factor when considering child support.

If you believe the new statute may affect you, then you should contact your attorney for more information.