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Communication: First Agree on How to Communicate

Because I have heard of many issues surrounding communicating between parties, I want to share with everyone some tips on how to communicate with the other parent. In the past 11 and a half years of practice, the one thing that I have seen predominantly across all divorces with children is a problem in communication between the parents. Let us face it, there is a reason people get divorced. There is a reason one of the parties filed first, or maybe both parties came to the agreement that this marriage is not working, and the best thing is to end the marriage. That decision was communicated to the other parent.

But during the divorce even when the parties agree it is what they need to do, there is one thing that I see commonly. There are raw emotions going on. Someone feels wronged. Someone feels hurt. Someone feels like he or she is about to lose everything. Communicating properly can really go a long way for setting what the rest of parent’s life with the children will look like and I’m talking to the rest of both parents’ life, not until the children turn the age of eighteen or not until the children graduate from high school.

Let us face it, parents are going to be at weddings together. Parents are going to be at the high school and college graduations together. Perhaps, parents will be attending graduate school graduations. Parents do not want their children having to go through life figuring out, especially on their wedding day.  Especially if we are talking about a daughter, she does not want to be asking, “Where do I sit my mom? And where do I sit my dad because they do not like each other, and I do not want to deal with the drama.” It is a wedding day and it should be all about the bride. That that is her big day. Loving parents do not want that to be something that overshadows their daughter’s special day. So, it is key to learn how to communicate.

I am going to share with you on every Tuesday a tip on how to communicate that I have learned, either through my own divorce, watching my parents get divorced and handle life afterward the judgment entered, or what I have learned from helping my clients navigate to what it looks like in a post-divorce world. So, the first tip I want to share with all of you is find a method to communicate that works well.

If you have a high conflict divorce, one where the two of you just cannot talk without it turning into a fight. Picking up the phone and calling is probably not your preferred method. Perhaps what you need to do is use text or emails, or even use some an app or program that will help you communicate, so you do not have to talk directly to one another. Understand just because you are co-parenting, does not mean you need to speak in person, or on the telephone to each other. You can send an email, you can send a text, but if both of you have a hard time controlling your emotions on that think about using a program like Our Family Wizard.

Our Family Wizard has been out for as long as I have been practicing law. It is a program designed to help you co parent and communicate. It has a new feature out called ToneMeter. Now, ToneMeter is a new feature on Our Family Wizard.  I have recently seen it in the last few years as a feature in their program. What it does is help parents re-evaluate the tone of the conversation before hitting send. It allows parents to evaluate what is the tone of the message?  When someone is writing in all caps, it means that the person is yelling. So, turn off the caps lock. Learn how to use proper punctuation. Write everything in complete sentences and paragraphs as if you were writing a letter to the judge. It is not helpful to write everything in one big block of text without breaks and commas and punctuation and paragraphs. A lack of proper sentence and paragraph structure makes it difficult to understand the thought process. It is basic communication. When writing something to the other parent, put each thought into a separate paragraph. Use punctuation. Take the time before hitting send to re-read the message. Does it sound and communicate the tone that is not hostile? If so, hit send. If not, maybe let it sit. There is no rule that says a message must immediately be replied to when the other parent is first to communicate. Silence is acceptable and delays are not bad.

I’ve known clients who have a “three rule.” They will tell the other parent once thing starts going downhill, especially on the phone, “Ok, I’m going to hang up the phone if you cannot calm down.” The message is repeated three times before they hang up the phone, because they do not want to engage in a fight. Sometimes when on the phone with the other parent, the children will be around or capable of hearing. So, when parents cannot communicate without resulting to a verbal disagreement or fight, it best use something like Our Family Wizard. Many of the available programs have an app that can be downloaded on an iPhone or Android. Look in the App Store or Google Play for a co-parenting app. There are many different program options out there. Some do charge, and some are free.

It is essential for both parties to agree to on how to communicate with one another. The parties should agree which program to use and how will they to use it? Sometimes when I am helping people redesign their family through divorce and I realized that this case is going to be high conflict. I will make the recommendation to them to use one of the available programs. I will present options to the parties, and we will draft that agreement into a judgment or an order so the parties will know what they are supposed to do.

So again, first step with communication is find a method that works to communicate with each conversation becoming a hostile one. Come back next week and I will have another great tip for you on how to communicate. It is possible to have a better life and for the children to feel like they are not caught up in the parents’ adult drama.

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