Thursday, October 1, 2015

Communicating Effectively With Your Ex

For many couples who have broken up, separated or divorced, communication may be very difficult. This is especially true when children are involved, and the parties have to communicate regularly regarding parenting time, payment of expenses and child support. Often, communications become tense and difficult when one of the parties introduces a new significant other in the mix. Suddenly, what once was a working relationship or even a friendship is now constant bickering between two people who want nothing to do with each other.

When two people have to communicate for the sake of their children or in order to carry out the terms of their agreement or judgment, but they can't get more than two sentences out before erupting in a screaming match, what can they do?

First, restrict communication to writing, except in emergencies. Putting things in writing not only gives the parties a few more minutes to consider what they're "saying" before pressing the send button, but it also keeps a written record for everyone in case disagreements come up over what was discussed.

Next, keep communications limited to what the parties have in common. If they have to check in regularly regarding the children's activities, then restrict e-mails and text messages to only those topics. If the parties have to finalize a QDRO and need to exchange financial information, limit communications to the documents and information needed. The parties should not use this opportunity to rehash what happened in the divorce or custody proceedings, or to opine about the other party's new relationship status. Keep communication concise and to the point.

Last, keep the children out of it. Because it's so important, I'll note it again: KEEP THE CHILDREN OUT OF IT. Neither party should use the children as messengers to request schedule changes or to ask about a missing child support check. The children did not get divorced/break up; the parties did. They should not have to feel uncomfortable mentioning their other parent, or making special requests. It's not their fault that the parties can't get along, and they should never have to question if one parent is better than the other. It is also unfair to the other party for a child to make a request, as it makes that parent look "bad" or "mean" if they don't agree.

When the parties cannot follow the above tips, it may be helpful to file a Complaint for Modification (or a Temporary Order, depending on where the parties are in the process) and request that the communication guidelines be made an actual order or judgment. That way, if one party refuses to communicate appropriately, they can be found in Contempt and assigned certain penalties such as the loss of decision making power.

Another option is to obtain the services of a Parenting Coordinator who can act as a mediator or referee. However, both parties must agree to use a Parenting Coordinator, and the costs can quickly add up if the parties are constantly in disagreement.

Communicating effectively with an ex can be very difficult and draining. But if both parties commit to following the above guidelines, they can make significant progress towards keeping communications civil, relevant and concise.

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