Ways Courts Use Technology

Ways Courts Use Technology

July 20, 2017

Below is information on ways the court system may use technology to try to protect victims of domestic violence from an abuser, including ordering GPS monitoring of offenders, allowing virtual visitation in custody cases, and using co-parenting tools.  You can also find information on ways abusers may misuse technology on our Abuse Using Technology page.

GPS Monitoring of Offenders

How do courts use GPS technology to track offenders?

Some states have specific laws that allow judges and law enforcement to use technology in ways that are intended to protect victims of domestic violence.  For example, law enforcement and courts can use Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology to track offenders who have committed domestic violence and stalking.  There are two types of GPS tracking – active and passive.  If a judge orders an abuser to wear an active GPS tracking device to monitor an abuser’s location, if the abuser enters a location where s/he is prohibited, the technology will notify you of the abuser’s location and may also be set to notify law enforcement or any court-ordered supervision agency that is monitoring the offender.

 Alternatively, an abuser wearing passive GPS tracking may wear a tracking device 24-hours a day, but only be required to upload his/her location history once a day.  The location history may then be reviewed from time to time by a probation officer or it may be used as a tool by law enforcement if you allege that the abuser violated the order.  Depending on your state, a judge may be able to order GPS tracking in a criminal or civil court case.

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Are there any risks to having an offender’s location tracked?

Tracking abusers with GPS technology can have risks if the victim relies solely upon the GPS tracking to stay safe.  For example, passive GPS monitoring in domestic violence or stalking cases cannot be relied upon as a way to protect or warn you (or law enforcement) of the abuser’s location to prevent possible further abuse.  Additionally, with active GPS monitoring, if there are not enough well-trained law enforcement officers to quickly respond when an abuser enters a prohibited location near you or if the court does not have proper procedures in place to hold offenders accountable for violating court orders, GPS monitoring is not as effective.  Also, if you do not have access to the technology required to alert you if the offender comes near you or if the technology fails, active GPS monitoring may not provide you with enough warning for you to protect yourself.  You may want to discuss your situation with a domestic violence advocate to decide whether GPS monitoring would be helpful in your situation and to safety plan.  You can also read more about the risks and benefits of GPS monitoring from Safety Net's GPS Monitoring of Offenders handout.

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Is GPS tracking available in my state?

In many states, GPS tracking is used in criminal cases as part of an offender’s release conditions.  However, not all states use this technology to track abusers in the civil court system.  You can check your state’s Statutes page to find out if your state has a law requiring GPS monitoring of abusers and can also check with legal experts in your state.  Lawyers and victim advocates in your state may also be able to help you understand what legal protections are available in your situation. 

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Virtual Visitation

Below is information on ways the court system may use technology to try to protect victims of domestic violence from an abuser, including ordering GPS monitoring of offenders, allowing virtual visitation in custody cases, and using co-parenting tools. You can also find information on ways abusers may misuse technology on our Technology Abuse page.

What is virtual visitation?

Virtual visitation is a process where parents can use video conferencing, Skype, FaceTime and other technology to “visit” with their children.  Some states have virtual visitation laws that allow a judge the authority to order that visits take place through technology as part of a custody order.  This might also be used as an alternative for when the custodial parent has relocated or is requesting relocation, to ensure that the relationship and communication between the child and the non-custodial parent continues between any physical visitation that was ordered.  Although a parent who is requesting relocation might be able to request virtual visits, the duration and frequency would have to be agreed upon by the parties or ordered by the judge.

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How can virtual visitation help me?

Virtual visitation laws allow parents to use technology to keep in contact with a child.  The custodial parent (the parent with whom the child primarily lives) may be able to use virtual visitation to allow contact with the non-custodial parent if in-person visitation is not safe (or practical) for the child or parent.  Depending on what type of technology is used for a virtual visit, you may also be able to have a log or record of what happened and what was said during a visit if the technology makes a recording of the visit.  You may want to also read about recording laws in our Electronic Surveillance ("Spying")  page to learn more about how this type of recording could be viewed in your state.

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Are there any risks or limitations with using virtual visitation?

If you are a victim of domestic violence, you may be able to use video conferencing (or other technology and social media sites) to allow the child to have some contact with the other parent when you wish to limit in-person visits.  However, in many states allow virtual visitation is used as an addition to in-person visitation, and judges may hesitate to order it as a complete replacement to visits.

Additionally, virtual visitation doesn’t remove the possibility that the abuser may abuse/harass you or your child over the technology during the visit.  An abuser trying to gain access to your computer to track you or steal your information could also try to share links with you to get you to download spyware or malware onto your computer.  Read more about monitoring in our GPS Monitoring page and Computer Crimes page.  You may also consider talking to an advocate to safety plan around using technology with an abusive co-parent.

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Is virtual visitation an option in my state?

You can check your state’s Statutes page to find out if your state has a virtual visitation law or consulting with a lawyer in your state.  You may also be able to request virtual visitation even if your state does not have a law addressing it.  You may consider asking a lawyer if it is possible to request virtual visitation in custody cases in your state.

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Co-parenting Technology Tools

How is technology used in co-parenting situations?

Certain electronic systems exist to better facilitate communication between parties in family law cases and to coordinate custody and visitation schedules.  One popular example is a tool known as “Our Family Wizard,” which tracks things like communications about the child, child custody calendars, visitation/parenting time schedules, and shared expenses.  Your communications are tracked with functions such as an electronic journal, a message board, expense log, and calendar.  WomensLaw is not affiliated with Our Family Wizard or any other co-parenting technology tool and cannot vouch for any products.  Our Family Wizard is only named as an example.

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How is using technology to co-parent helpful?

Technology tools that track your communications can protect you if there is a dispute between you and your co-parent about what was said since there is a record of the communications.  If your co-parent is abusive, having a record of the conversation may deter him/her from using custody and visitation communications to harass you.  Alternatively, the communication log may help if you have to prove abuse/harassment in court or provide documentation to an attorney or law enforcement official.  Additionally, having clear visitation schedules that clarify the custody arrangement can be useful for when parents need to plan vacations or other activities.  Using co-parenting tools could also eliminate the child’s exposure to certain high-conflict communications that may otherwise happen in person or over the phone.

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Are there any risks or limitations with using technology to help with co-parenting communications?

Generally state laws do not require a judge to order how parents communicate while co-parenting (one exception might be if there is a restraining order in place).  Judges may be reluctant to issue an order requiring that parents use technology to co-parent because they may not be familiar with the technology, may not believe they have the power to make that type of order, or may find it is inappropriate for some other reason.  Additionally, these programs usually require a fee for use, so that may prohibit you from having access to them.  To think through whether or not using some sort of communication tool may work for your situation, you may want to talk to a lawyer who specializes in custody and domestic violence issues.

You can learn about general custody laws in your state on our Custody page by selecting your state from the drop-down menu.

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