A wise old owl sat in an oak,
The more he heard, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard;
Why aren’t we all like that wise old bird?
—Edward Hersey Richards
Ongoing and open communication is the key to successful co-parenting. While direct, face-to-face communication is ideal, it is often impractical, uncomfortable or simply impossible due to scheduling conflicts, interpersonal hostilities or even court orders. Thus, many co-parents increasingly rely on arms-length exchanges via telephone, text, instant messaging and/or email, to convey and receive important parenting information. While these alternate methods are convenient and potentially less awkward or stressful than a real life interaction with your former spouse, you should always be wary of the three “m’s” before leaving a voicemail or hitting the “send” button – misinterpretation, miss-sending and misuse.
Routine telephone contact is appropriate where both co-parents can directly communicate in a civil and productive manner. Otherwise, telephone communications should be restricted to true emergencies. Parents should be mindful that children may be within earshot during telephone conversations and will likely be sensitive to any strong emotion and/or negative tones in their voice. When leaving a voicemail message, assume that the children will hear it. If a parent is not returning calls or otherwise not answering the phone, do not call the children on their mobile devices or use them to relay your message to your co-parent.
Email and text messages are an effective and impersonal way to exchange basic information with a co-parent. When treated with the detachment of a business communication, emails and texts can help keep strong emotions out of the parenting dialogue. Parenting emails should be brief, child-focused, limited in number and confined to relevant parenting information. They should not be used as a forum to address past grievances, to criticize parenting skills, to assign blame or to discuss support issues, as these may engender strong emotions. Limit the parenting dialogue to parenting. Each party should address the other in a respectful tone and should refrain from using profanity, sarcasm or graphic devices such as color, bold text, multiple exclamation points, underling or all CAPS to emphasize a point. Parenting emails should never be shared with the children. Moreover, third parties, such as grandparents, stepparents, significant others and friends should not be overtly copied or otherwise invited to contribute to the interchange.
Today’s unfiltered, bitter and caustic remark
may blindside you in court when it appears as “Exhibit A” in tomorrow’s motion to modify or restrict your parenting time. Avoid this trap for the unwary through adherence to the following basic communication guidelines:
- Keep the communication brief and child-focused. Think before you speak or hit the send button.
- Adopt a respectful and business-like tone. Do not raise your voice, use all CAPS or resort to profanity, sarcasm or abusive language.
- If the interchange becomes heated, politely end it and wait until you have cooled off to resume your conversation or otherwise respond.
- Do not use your child to relay messages to the other parent, either personally or through the child’s mobile device or email account.
- Limit each communication to one child-related topic.
- Respond to a voicemail, email or text message in a timely manner – typically within 24 hours or less.
- Do not invite or permit third-parties to join the parenting conversation or email/text chain.
- If you reach an agreement on a disputed parenting decision – such as an exchange time – follow-up with a brief and business-like email and text summarizing the agreement to avoid future misunderstandings.
- Do not say or write anything which you would be embarrassed to see on the front page of the Denver Post.