Q: Although my husband and I could not make our marriage work, we have a very good relationship because of our only child, age 11, who has special needs. Since our divorce five years ago, we have shared time with our daughter equally, and we are both heavily involved in all of her activities. When we divorced, we agreed on joint custody and, since both of us work for state government, we agreed that neither of us would relocate and move our daughter away from the other.
Even though I was not looking for other work, I have been offered a job in a large city almost across the country that will pay me almost double what I am now earning along with great benefits. At 37 years of age, this new opportunity will benefit me greatly. When I went for the job interview, I took an extra two days to explore housing and the services available for our daughter. Although it will be a change for her, I feel good about her care. When I told my ex, however, he went ballistic. He says that I can do whatever I want for myself, but that he will fight to keep her with him. I met with a lawyer who told me that relocation would be difficult, but that he had heard that some courts have approved visits over the Internet. I am torn. Are there options I have not thought about?
A: When it comes to moving a special needs child across the United States in a situation where the father is heavily involved in the child's care and the child is doing well where she is, we believe that you may have an uphill climb. However, since issues regarding relocation, custody and visitation vary from state to state, the decision in your case will depend on the law of your state of residence as applied to your specific facts.
As a research tool for you and other readers who are interested in this topic, we suggest that you search the articles available on this issue at the Web site of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers: www.aaml.org/
While "Internet visitation" that is using Web cameras and e-mail is certainly not like "being there," the New Jersey courts approved this medium as a factor to be considered in situations where one parent wants to move a child and thereby disrupt the other parent's access to the child. This is not to say, however, that the courts of other states including your state of residence will embrace the use of creative high technology in lieu of the traditional approach to relocation cases, especially where a special needs child is involved.
While e-mail, scanners, Web cameras, and interactive Web sites can be used as communication tools to keep a parent up-to-date on school work, athletic participation, and daily routine, the move you suggest will be detrimental to your former husband's special relationship with his daughter, which may not be in her best interest.
In our view, the younger the child, the less likely "Internet visitation" will be allowed. This is especially true when it comes to a special-needs child who may or may not have the capacity to operate the computer or understand the situation and who will probably benefit more from live contact with your former husband. The fact that your former husband has had a strong and continuing relationship with this young lady, in our view, reduces the strength of this argument and your relocation plan.