5 Tips for Co-parent Communication
In every relationship, communication can be challenging. Add to that the stress and emotion of a divorce or contested custody matter and it can seem impossible. However, most cases end up with some kind of shared custody arrangement requiring parties to discuss and agree on issues relating to the health and welfare of their children. The advice I give to clients is to follow these five steps.
- Keep as much as you can in writing, which includes text messages and email. This not only makes it possible to prove what each of you said to the other, but what you did not say, eliminating the chance of false allegations of the he said/she said variety. As a side benefit, there cannot be any claims that you yelled at the other person, hung up on them or any other kind of “rude” or “abusive” behavior because everything is written down.
- Take a minute to breathe/think/calm down before responding. Collect your thoughts and maybe even sleep on it before sending your reply. There is no rule that you must respond instantaneously and in most cases, it only increases the likelihood of saying something that inflames the situation. Keep in mind that everything you send may be read someday by a judge and choose your words with that audience in mind and not just your ex!
- Stick to the facts and leave out extraneous details and emotional language to the extent possible. Avoid blaming and manipulation and, perhaps most importantly, understand that if you are asking for something, it is not reasonable to expect that the other party will always agree, so prepare yourself to deal graciously with a No sometimes.
- Avoid leaving questions so open-ended that you never get a response. A well-intentioned “let me know what you think…” if unanswered leaves you unable to make any plans one way or the other until you get a response. Set a reasonable timeline for some kind of response, but be mindful that this may not be as much of a priority for the other person as it is for you. Depending on the issue, 3-7 days is probably reasonable for most things, but you should not have to wait several weeks for a simple Yes or No.
- Finally, treat the other party with the same respect and consideration you would like from him or her. Give him/her the benefit of the doubt sometimes and avoid jumping to assume the worst. This can be difficult, especially in the early days of separation or in the midst of contentious litigation. The hope is that over time, with practice, it gets easier. While being “friendly” with your ex might not be realistic in some cases, you should be able to treat them with the basic civility you would use toward a stranger.
If you are going through a divorce or separation involving co-parenting, whether you want to or not, you will need to communicate with your ex from time to time. If you can learn how to do so in a way that minimizes the level of conflict, it will only benefit you and your children by reducing the stress and tension of an already difficult time.