Cara and Sam share custody of their two children, Molly, 12 and Alex, 7. Lately, Cara and Sam cannot agree on anything. Conversations always end with harsh words, many times in front of the children. Cara and Sam realize there has to be a better way to exchange information but they are not sure where to begin.
Communication between separated or divorced parents can be difficult, even if the split was amicable, and for those whose break-up was acrimonious, communicating can be impossible. However, despite how much you may never want to speak to your spouse or ex-spouse again, if you have children, communication is inevitable.
Pamela Paul, author of the New York Times article, Kramer.com vs. Kramer.com, suggests that handling communication through email and text messages helps reduce emotional exchanges between parents. It is “joint custody-at a distance”. Parents who are having trouble communicating can use email to schedule pick-ups, drop offs, and daycare when children are sick. If a parent is running late, a quick text message can alert the other parent without arguments or harsh words.
While email may solve communication problems in some cases it can also make them worse. Email can be used as a weapon against the other parent. It is easy for an angry spouse or ex-spouse to use email to attack and criticize which can result in a never ending string of emails. One solution is to use a “form” email which only includes basic details such as where and when for visitation. Adding more information opens the door for continuous dialogue.
Divorced or separated parents may also find that they are receiving many email messages a day. If this happens, you can set up a system where you respond to all non-emergency emails in one email response on a set day of the week each and every week. Let the other parent know that this is how you will be handling non-emergency email so they do not think you are ignoring them or wonder if you received the email.
Another tool Cara and Sam can use to keep organized is an online shared calendar, such as Google calendar. Cara and Sam can add each of the children’s activities, school events, birthday parties, etc. so both parents have access to the information without having to verbally communicate. Cara and Sam can also allow their pre-teen Molly to access the schedule so she can confirm whose house she will be at on any given date.
As many divorced or separated parents know, technology is not without its faults. Email and text messages can often be misinterpreted and many times humor, irony, or sarcasm can get lost. Emails can be ignored just like phone messages. When discussions, negotiations, and/or arguments are done via email or text messaging, they create a permanent record that could be used in future litigation. So, what is a parent to do? If you cannot verbally communicate, it is better to use email and text messaging then to not communicate at all. Never send an email or text message in the heat of an argument. Write the message but do not send it until you have had a chance to cool off. Then, reread the message and ask yourself if it is something you would want a judge to read. If so, go ahead and send the message. If not, rewrite your response before pressing send. While technology has its draw backs, if used properly, it can make managing children in two households a lot easier.