In re T.R.T: The Court of Appeals concluded that communication with the child via Skype is not a substitute for in-person visitation and is not visitation.
By Carole Gailor, Family Lawyer
In February 2012 the Department of Social services for New Hanover County filed a juvenile petition alleging five year old T.R.T was neglected and improperly supervised. T/R/T had previously been adjudicated neglected and been in DSS custody for more than a year before he was returned to his mother. The mother had known mental health problems. In March 2012 the trial court entered an order concluding T.R.T. was a neglected juvenile within the meaning of N. C Gen. Stat.
§ 7B-101(15(2011). The child remained in DSS custody. DSS was ordered to set up visitation with the mother via Skype to occur during a supervised visitation class. The mother appealed the order. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s order finding the juvenile was neglected based on T.R.T.’s prior adjudication of neglect, the DSS workers’ knowledge of the mother’s mental health history and evidence that the mother refused to cooperate with DSS workers. Further, the mother argued that the trial court erred in setting up the visitation plan because communication with the child via Skype is not visitation as contemplated by N. C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-905(c) and the order, therefore, denies her visitation.
The Court of Appeals concluded that communication with the child via Skype is not a substitute for in-person visitation and is not visitation as contemplated by N. C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-905(c). The statute provides that electronic communication may supplement visitation but not as a replacement. Because the order failed to make any findings that the mother forfeited her right to visitation or that visitation would be inappropriate under the circumstances the trial court’s order was reversed and remanded for additional findings of fact and conclusions of law relating to this issue.
Carole Gailor is the founding and managing member of Gailor, Hunt, Jenkins, Davis & Taylor, PLLC in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is a Board Certified Family Law Specialist, Fellow in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and President of the North Carolina Chapter. Carole has been selected for Best Lawyers in America for multiple years, and one of the Top Fifty Women Lawyers in North Carolina by Super Lawyers. Her website: http://www.gailorwallis.com/cgailor.htm