When there are challenges around communication while co-parenting after divorce or separation, a parenting plan, either court ordered or by parental agreement, can structure the ways in which co-parents will communicate about their child. Including communication terms in a parenting plan can help to deescalate conflict, decrease misunderstandings, ensure that both parents have access to vital information, and insulate children from exposure to adult conflict.
- Stick to written communication. Written communication allows each parent to choose when to receive the information, and allows each to take time to give a thoughtful response, rather than just react by, e.g., acquiescing to something that he or she really does not want to do, or reflexively rejecting proposals. Because written communication is subject to court scrutiny in the event of litigation, parents who might become intemperate in live communication often edit their written communication to voice things more diplomatically.
- Use electronic written communication if possible. Mobile email, text messaging, and other media on phones and tablets allow for immediate written communication between parents. Use of email and text messaging can reduce emotional intensity and can be accomplished discreetly without the child’s awareness.
- Consider online services created for co-parenting. There are online services that offer valuable tools for parents to communicate and collaborate on schedules. Many parenting plan orders require the use of a web service such as Our Family Wizard, which creates a permanent record of communication and activity. Some services also have filters that flag harsh language and encourage better “ex” etiquette.
- Plan for any meetings or phone calls. If the parenting plan provides for periodic co-parenting meetings or phone calls, consider having them moderated by a mediator or family therapist. The parenting plan can even describe a method for developing an agenda for such calls, so that neither parent is caught by surprise.
- Use daily journals for very young or special needs children. Parents of young children need to communicate large amounts of detailed, daily information about such matters as health, sleep and eating patterns, and developmental changes so that they can maintain consistency and recognize immediate needs. This may also be true of parents of special needs children. This may be accomplished by having an online journal or a hard copy journal that travels between homes with the child in a backpack or diaper bag. A parenting plan can provide that the pages of the journal be numbered, that no pages may be removed, and no entries obscured. An online journal accessible by both parents may also be used; web services such as Our Family Wizard do not permit the editing or deletion of posts.
- Set up information boxes at each home. An inbox in each home can also help with information exchange. A parent can set up a box in which the child and parent may save samples of school work, drawings, notices, report cards, party invitations, school picture order forms, and other items to be scanned, copied, or given to the other parent on a regular basis.
For everything you need to know about drafting parenting plans, turn to CEB’s California Child Custody Litigation and Practice, chap 4. And on covering non-regular days in parenting plans, check out CEB’s program Custody Issues—Vacations and Holidays.
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