When parents separate or get divorced, the children will often live with one parent on a day-to-day basis – the so-called ‘resident parent’. But most separated couples recognise the importance of the children continuing to enjoy a relationship with the absent parent, via everything from overnight visits to holidays to weekend outings. In between times, of course, they can also stay in touch via phone calls, email, or increasingly here in the third decade of the 21st Century, video calls. Like emails or the phone, video calls might lend themselves to spontaneity, helping to maintain a sense of connection and communication even when the other parent is far away.

From a legal standpoint, FaceTime, Zoom or Skype calls with your children is just another form of “contact” – i.e. time spent with your child following divorce or separation. Alongside money, contact is usually the biggest single topic discussed by parents who are splitting up.

What is a parenting plan?

Most parents reach individual agreements between themselves about what contact will take place and when – but the family courts can and do intervene in the interests of the children if these agreements break down. Occasionally, if the break-up is rancorous and the parents are struggling to agree on anything, the courts may have to step in. But thankfully, that is uncommon.

Some separated parents prefer to adopt a completely informal agreement regarding contact, negotiated on the fly with their ex – and that can work for some people, especially if they are still on relatively good terms. But we recommend creating a formal, written agreement or ‘parenting plan’. This sets down exactly what each parent has agreed in relation to contact – including, of course, video calls. It clarifies expectations and – if drafted properly – removes any misunderstandings that may have arisen between the parents. Parenting plans can also help separated parents who may still be seething with resentment towards each other to focus on the best interests of the children.

And there is yet another reason to consider a formal parenting plan: if you run into problems with other parent in the future and do have to resort to the family courts, most judges there will expect to see a parenting plan: they bring clarity to an emotional situation, and they show good faith and a sincere effort to make things work in the best interests of your children.

You can draw up your own parenting plan but a family solicitor will be able to help you draft an optimal one – one that will cover all eventualities and that will carry the most weight with the family courts.

What role do video calls play in parenting after divorce or separation?

FaceTime, Zoom and Skype have been a technological gift to many separated parents, enabling a sense of real time with their kids even when they cannot be there in person – perhaps because the next scheduled visit is still weeks or even months away. The extra visual dimension makes the experience a richer and more fulfilling one for both parent and child. Of course, the time of day that the video calls take place and their duration should be appropriate for the child’s age, especially for younger children who will have home routines to consider and shorter attention spans. For separated parents who live nearby and see their children every other weekend, video calls might well be less important, but work and personal circumstances push many parents some distance away, drastically reducing the time they can spend with kids who were most likely a part of their daily lives before the divorce. For them video calls can seem like the next best thing to being in the same room.

Like other aspects of contact, establishing a successful video call routine with your children is ultimately about keeping the lines of communication open. Talk to the resident parent, log on when you say you’re going to – and do your very best to make time together online a rewarding and fun experience.