December 18, 2000
THE WEBCAM DAD
Love tug father can stay in touch with child by video, says judgeThe Mirror
A LOVE tug dad can stay in touch with his adored five-year-old son in the US through a webcam, a judge has ruled.
In a rare legal move the judge said that the 36-year-old man, who wanted to stop his former wife leaving the country with their child, can communicate via email and live computer video link-ups.
Family campaigners hailed the move as a "brilliant" solution to an age-old problem. But the distraught father said: "My boy is all I've got, and they want me to hug a monitor. I need to hold my son, not see him on a computer screen." The father, who cannot be named to protect the identity of his son, had been seeing the boy every weekend and one evening a week up to the legal ruling.
He wanted to halt his 36-year-old "ex" leaving the country with their child to start a new life with her lover.
But the judge ruled they could go, with the dad remaining in touch through phone calls, emails, video links, gifts and cards. In addition, he will be allowed four visits a year.
The father, from Huddersfield, West Yorks, was devastated. He said: "My son has a right to a family, yet he is being taken away.
"If I'm only allowed these visits, he's not going to know me. I've got a home computer but no webcam. I shall get one to keep in touch. But it won't be the same."
The father said he did not even know if his wife's new partner, a teacher, had a computer and webcam at home.
He said: "I have to help my son get ready to go, and it's killing me. My solicitor says I can appeal. But if I lose, the costs will break me."
The Family Welfare Association said after the county court ruling at Leeds: "This is a brilliant decision and utterly within the spirit of the law.
"The visual impression of the absent parent is terribly important in enabling the child to remain attached. If you're going to have to endure separation from your child, this is a way of remaining a part of their life."
The Law Society's Family Law committee agreed it was the "way forward".
London lawyer Mark Harper, who is on the committee, said: "Cases where a mother and child go to live in another country are very difficult to decide.
"Technology can make things a little less painful, although it's still very traumatic for fathers."
Family law specialist Andrew Newbury, of Manchester firm Pannone and Partners, said: "Judges are moving with the times and approving the use of available technology.
"If the relationship is maintained by email or video it's better than nothing. It may not be what the father wants, but it's what's good for the child that is most important."
But the pressure group, Families Need Fathers, said the law should address the problem of wives being able to leave the country with children.
A spokesman said: "This is attacking the symptom, not the disease."