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Father to appeal 'virtual visitation'

The Boston Globe
July 11, 2002

Father to appeal 'virtual visitation' / Says video chats no substitute
by Michele Kurtz, Globe Correspondent and Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff

A father who was ordered by a judge last week to have ''virtual
visitation'' with his three children once they move to New York with their
mother said yesterday he'll appeal the decision.

''It shouldn't be a substitute for physical contact,'' said Paul Cleri, of
Canton. ''It certainly could be a great idea to augment physicial visits,
but it certainly shouldn't be done in lieu of what the children are used
to and what the father is used to. ... I never went more than a couple
days without seeing the children.''

In an unusual order, Norfolk Probate and Family Court Judge E. Chouteau
Merrill last week granted Cleri and his wife, Lorraine, of Needham, a
divorce and granted him video conferences with his 5-year-old son and twin
2-year-old daughters twice a week, in addition to two weekend visits a

Until the divorce, which involved a heated custody dispute, Paul Cleri
shared custody of the children, often seeing them four or five days a
week, he said yesterday.

''I did all the things a normal parent would do - cooked meals for them,
potty trained, read nighttime stories,'' he said.

Lorraine Cleri's lawyer, David Cherny, said his client wants to move back
to her hometown on Long Island to be near her extended family. He
predicted that the controversial virtual visits - which were her idea in
this case - will become increasingly common.

This worries Paul Cleri's lawyer, Lisa Poblocki. ''If the trend continues,
it makes it almost a slam-dunk, I think, for the custodial parent to
move,'' she said.

The Cleri case is apparently not the first time a Massachusetts judge has
ordered virtual visitation. Last August, Judge Nancy M. Gould, an
associate justice in Suffolk Probate and Family Court, granted a similar
custody arrangement between a man and his ex-wife, who was planning to
move to California with their 10-year-old son.

Gould gave the mother, Amy S. Looker, custody of the boy and established a
visitation schedule for the father, Steven M. Chevalier. But she also
ordered the mother to pay for video equipment and cameras that would allow
Chevalier to talk to his son face-to-face - via a Web camera or a
videophone - on a regular basis.

The idea occurred to Gould after she read a magazine article about
''virtual'' possibilities in other fields.

''It's not a substitute for face-to-face visitation, and I'll never say it
is,'' Gould said yesterday, adding that the on-camera sessions
supplemented an extensive visitation schedule. ''It's difficult. You're
dealing with two coasts.''

This story ran on page B3 of the Boston Globe on 7/11/2002.

Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.
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The Boston Herald
Wednesday, July 10, 2002

'Virtual visitation' backed: Judge adds 'link' to child custody ruling
by David Weber

In the first decision of its kind in a child custody case in
Massachusetts, a judge has ruled that a Needham woman must maintain a
computer video link with her divorced husband as a condition of her being
allowed to move to New York with their three children.

The decision by Norfolk Probate and Family Court Judge E. Chouteau Merrill
required the divorced parents to set up interactive computer equipment in
their respective homes so their 5-year-old son and twin 2-year-old
daughters will have a higher degree of twice-weekly contact with their
father than that afforded by telephone calls or written correspondence.

``You can't hug a computer, but this is a way to assist the non-custodial
parent in being a part of the children's day-to-day activities,'' said
attorney David Cherny of Atwood & Cherny, who represented Lorraine Cleri
in the divorce and custody case against her ex-husband, Paul Cleri.

Cherny said the novel judicial solution is important because ``it
recognizes that we live in a very mobile society and that courts and
people are looking for ways to help children maintain contact with their
non-custodial parents.''

The divorce judgment, which was issued July 2 and received in the mail by
the lawyers yesterday, calls for Lorraine Cleri to have her children
available for ``virtual visitation'' on Tuesdays and Thursday between 6
p.m. and 7 p.m.

Each parent is required to purchase the necessary computer equipment to
provide video and audio contact during the ``visits.''

``This would allow (the father) to do things like read to the children and
see them playing in their environment,'' Cherny said.

The divorce judgment also provides for Paul Cleri to have the children in
Massachusetts on the first weekend of every month and to visit them in New
York on the third weekend of each month.

Cherny said Lorraine Cleri proposed the ``virtual visits'' as a result of
her husband's opposition to her moving back to Long Island, where she grew
up and still has supporting family, as well as a new job offer.

Paul Cleri objected to his ex-wife being allowed to move out of
Massachusetts because it would drastically reduce the amount of contact he
desired with his children. He also opposed the ``virtual visitation''
solution when his ex-wife first proposed it in court.

Paul Cleri had sought primary custody of all three children in the case.

Neither Paul Cleri nor his attorney, Lisa Poblocki of Poblocki & Lydon in
Quincy, could be reached for comment yesterday.

Cherny said he knows of only one other divorce case in which a judge used
computerized ``virtual visitation'' to resolve custody issues. That case
was in New Jersey.

``Today computers have become an extension of our daily lives. It is only
natural that parents and courts would adopt the means of `virtual
visitation' as one more way to help non-custodial parents separated
geographically from their children maintain ongoing contact with their
children,'' Cherny said.

``Certainly this is superior to telephone contact, and one step away from
being there.''

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