During pending or after completed domestic litigation (i.e. divorce, paternity, custody matters), communication between parents/parties is often extraordinarily challenging for most well- intentioned parents. Many times, a breakdown in communication was a central cause of the underlying problem relationship to begin with, increasing with the stressors of litigation.
Although complex and often frustrating in that parties successful communication often means the parents have to agree to disagree, parties must learn how to effectively communicate regarding the children. Without this, fighting between parents over parenting with the children makes for life-long scars on the children and, depending upon the children’s ages, may keep the parents in court for up to two decades of their adult lives.
Moreover, communication is not failing to communicate with the other party and ignore the issues. This just compounds ultimate communications and makes them that much more likely to be explosive in nature. Simply put, unless there is a no contact order or protective order involved in litigation (in which case communication is likely completely prohibited and same should be strictly followed), parties must frequently communicate during or after litigation regarding issues such as the child’s school, extracurricular activities, medical needs, and the like.
No certain communication technique will work for every parent. However, the six (6) steps below may help you have more effective communication during and after litigation, making a potentially tense and uncomfortable proposition easier. These are simple, tried and true. And hopefully they will help you.
1. DO allow time to reflect before communication.
Often communication between parents is reactionary and defensive. One parent may send a seemingly innocent e-mail regarding a function the child has, not realizing the other parent already has plans that day. Instead of calmly reviewing the situation, the parent will write a quick e-mail back, angry with the parent that they “forgot” the plans.
These communications are a very common issue as today letters and phone calls are secondary and most communications are made in real time (without thought) by e-mail or text message. If you have received a communication that frustrates or angers you, sleep on it before you respond. In other words, don’t send an email before you reflect on the issue and try to understand what the other parent is thinking.
In the morning, or after a break, your head may be clearer, and you may be more rational or balanced in your communication back. Often, communication problems and anger regarding the same are born from reactionary responses. Giving time to think and calm down often aids in this situation. Don’t just send jot for jot responses.
Instead, reflect, be understanding, and try to craft an e-mail that focuses on the children and not any given issue between the parents played out under the guise of “communication” about the children.
2. DO use other contacts and means to obtain routinely available information.
If parents are unable to effectively communicate on the day-to-day activities and events going on with the children, one path to avoiding improper or negative communication is to get the information from another source, if possible. For example, if a child is on a team and a parent needs information about a schedule, try contacting the coach or another player’s parent first. Much of this information is on the web these days. While it is better that each parent keeps the other directly advised of this, the question to ask is whether the issue is worth fighting about. The moral to the story is avoiding potentially unpleasant communication between parents for the little things that can slide.
3. DO keep communication direct with the other parent about the children.
Children already must adjust to a difficult family situation (divorce or custody matters) and do not need the further stress of acting as a go-between for the two (2) parents. Communication between parents should be just that-between the parents. Keeping communication between the adults allows the issues to be discussed openly and appropriately, with the child reaping the benefits of not having to choose a side or feel uncomfortable passing messages back and forth.
4. DO choose the best method of communication for both parents.
Some parents may prefer e-mail communication because it is not as subject to interpretation as an in-person communication that has body language and other components associated with it. However, some people may find it more helpful to have a conversation face-to-face or by telephone so that there is not the constant back and forth of e-mail. There is no right or wrong way to communicate, so long as it minimizes animosity between the parents and keeps the matters from the children.
For example, an email asking about soccer practice may quickly turn into ten (10) e-mails about soccer practice with follow up questions and details missed. This may be more frustrating to some than a quick, three (3) minute phone conversation that addresses all the issues. Know which method works best for both parents and consciously try to utilize the same. And at times, certain communications may work better than others.
To make the most of communications with the other parents, view the means as tools in a toolbox. Any one form of communication may be necessary at a certain time and invasive or inappropriate at any other time.
5. DO remember the child’s best interests.
Oftentimes, communication can morph from initially being about the child into becoming about the parents, their shortfalls, or differences in parenting styles. For example, an e-mail asking one parent to pick a child up from soccer because the other is working late may turn into an e-mail rehashing how one parent thinks the other works too many hours-and always has!
Try to keep to the topic at hand, and remember the child’s best interests. This keeps the communication on track and, hopefully, as civil as possible with the child’s needs superseding all others.
6. DO give the children “peace” at parent-to-parent exchanges.
One of the most devastating aspects of divorce is where parents wage their disputes between each other in front of the children at parenting exchanges. In this context, the children see, hear and get all of the dirty laundry about the other parent that confuses them and erodes their sense of well being. Remember these children likely were unwilling participants to the divorce the first time around and still want and need to see their parents in the light they did when they were together.
Communication during and after litigation can hard to achieve. By following the steps above, hopefully this transition will be easier for the parents as they move on to new lives and the children making the most of the divorced family ensuring their best interests are met.. We hope that this blog post has been informative about effective communication, and has given some means to improve the same. If so, this educational blog post has met its goal. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices law throughout the state of Indiana. This blog post was written by attorney, Jessica Keyes.