“Cyberspying” by a parent, who uses technology to monitor what their kids are doing when they’re with their other parent, is a disturbing trend among divorced couples and parents who do not share a home. Parents use these tactics to try to keep an eye on their children or the other parent for various reasons, including trying to change custody arrangements. Recently, SmolenPlevy family lawyerAlan Plevy and Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson have noticed a number of parents engage in this behavior.
Checking up on what the other parent is doing when they have custody is easy when the children have smartphones or access to computers with webcams. Some examples include:
- Tracking the kids via their cell phone’s GPS or the “ Find My iPhone” app.
- Chatting with the children on webcam sites like FaceTime or Skype, then scrutinizing or questioning what’s going on in the background.
- Insisting the kids connect via webcam at particular times to prove they’re doing certain things, like taking their medication or going to bed on time.
- Setting up webcams on the kids’ laptops to automatically record what’s going on.
“This is an example of when the law still needs to catch up with technology but more than that, this behavior puts the children in the middle of their parents’ conflict,” says Dickerson, “and to make matters worse, if the parent being watched takes away the phone or computer so they cannot be spied upon, the child feels punished by losing their technology.”
When Used Correctly, Technology Connects Parents and Children
“When used appropriately, technology is a wonderful tool when kids split their time between parents,” Plevy says, such as when the kids are away and mom or dad can read them a bedtime story via Skype or help them with their homework online. And in unfortunate situations when a parent is abusive or has an alcohol or drug problem, cell phones enable children in danger to contact the other parent for emergency help when necessary.
Plevy advises parents who complain about what’s going on in the other parent’s household to consider what’s really important. For example, if you want the kids in bed by 8pm and the other parent lets them stay up until 9—is that really worth a big fight? He adds that compromise and communication go a long way in settling custody disputes, though there are certain issues like abuse which may require the intervention of the court. “Generally, the best course of action is to negotiate with the other parent,” says Plevy. “Try to agree on points of contention like bedtime or where you’re taking the children on vacation, so that there’s no need to spy.”
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