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Custody with Facetime and Contempt

There have been phones and computers around for decades now, and in the child custody context they have been instrumental in providing access to children for noncustodial parents. But since Facetime has come around, we are beginning to see some court documents, specifically custody orders, reference Facetime when crafting custodial schedules. The common form of this Facetime provision is to order that the custodial parent—the parent with physical custody of the child at the time—make the children available for Facetime calls. They differ by the duration of the call, and some will specify specific windows of time in which the noncustodial parent may call. Most also add some sort of “reasonableness” to the equation, so that the Facetime provision is not abused by either party.

A recent court case about Facetime was decided by the court of appeals in Blanchard v. Blanchard, slip opinion, COA19-866 (2021) (2021-NCCOA-488). It was about a custodial father not complying with the Facetime provision, thereby not allowing the mother to make calls as their custody order stated. Father tried arguing that he was complying with the order because he kept the children’s iPad on from 6:00pm to 6:30pm each night. Before the parents got this iPad, mother had been conducting the Facetime sessions from her phone to father’s phone. Father then blocked mother on his phone. So when the children did not answer the Facetime on their iPad, mother could only email father about Facetiming the children.

This led to a lot of missed Facetime sessions. Notably, father did not tell mother that the iPad was on from 6:00-6:30pm, and at some other times the iPad would be off or Facetime disabled; mother only had that 30-minute window and did not even realize it. Mother had repeatedly contacted father about her missed Facetimes, and father gave the impression to the trial court that he was willfully ignorant of the issue.

Another incident pointed to the fact that father seemed to try to frustrate the effects of their custody order: at some point, mother requested a Facetime, and father replied with his marriage license with his new wife. He also labeled mother’s contact info in his phone as “psycho bitch.” Father was held in contempt for his actions.