My clients often provide me with copies of their emails and text communications with their ex-spouse. Most of the time, the written communications are helpful evidence to demonstrate whether a parent is communicating and co-parenting in good faith, i.e., if a parent is timely responding to information requests or is providing necessary information about the children to the other parent about a significant matter relating to the child. However, there are many times that I am presented with written communications between ex-spouses that are inappropriate and serve only to demonstrate an inability to co-parent or communicate in a healthy and respectful way. These inappropriate communications increase parental conflict, which of course, is not in the best interest of the child. Sometimes the communications become so problematic that the recipient will perceive the communications as harassment and will seek an Order of Protection to limit the frequency and content of the communications from the other parent.
Poor communication skills are usually a contributing factor to the demise of a relationship. So there is no surprise that even after a divorce, a couple still demonstrate challenges in their communications with each other. However, to avoid having your communications used as an exhibit against you in Court to show your co-parenting deficits or worse, as a basis to obtain an Order of Protection against you, here are 3 easy tips on how to better communicate with your ex-spouse:
1. Keep your opinions and advice to yourself
Whether you like it or not, now that you are divorced what you think of the other parent and his/her actions is generally no longer your business. If you think that your ex-spouse is still a lazy, useless, good for nothing and should be looking for a job, you should not share your opinion. If you think that your ex-spouse should be dating people his/her own age, you should not share your opinion. Your ex-spouse no longer cares what you think and certainly is not going to appreciate your unsolicited advice. Stop giving it.
2. Don’t tell your ex-spouse how to parent
There should be no communications that include the words “you should.” Emails that tell the other parent “you should actually spend time with your children and not leave them with your mother all the time” or “you should be sitting with the kids and helping them with their homework” are not appropriate. You can parent the children when they are with you, how you believe is appropriate, and the other parent gets to do the same. That’s just how it works when children have separate homes.
3. Stick to the facts
Communications should be factual and should not include superfluous and incendiary commentary. If the other parent is late picking up the child for an exchange, send a communication that says factually “The exchange was at 6:00 p.m. You did not show up until 6:30 p.m. We need to follow the Court Orders for the exchange times.” Do not send a communication that says “You were supposed to do the exchange at 6:00 p.m. You didn’t show up until 6:30 p.m. You were probably screwing your girlfriend or something and lost track of time. You clearly are still self-centered and don’t think of anyone but yourself.” Be aware that even if you think this is why your ex-spouse was late, the Judge reading this type of communication will now be less focused on why your ex-spouse was late for the exchange and will be more focused on your reactivity, negativity and inappropriate responsive communication.
The bottom line is that all written communications between ex-spouses can be used in further Court hearings. Think before you press send.