Sometimes when parties separate, it is amicable, and both parties are civil and even friendly with each other allowing for seamless decision-making. Other times, after a separation, the last thing that either party wants to do is see the other person, let alone speak to them. The lack of communication between separating parties is especially challenging when there are children involved.
The Downside to Losing Your Cool with Your Ex
In high conflict cases involving custody, access and child support evidence of communications between the parties is often front and centre if the matter goes to court. In these cases, there is a considerable downside if a large part of a court proceeding or trial is spent dissecting the parties' communication with each other with each side pointing out snide responses, intentional delays, foul language, aggressive tone and blaming each other for communication breakdowns. Going through correspondence, including emails and text messages that the parties exchanged going back (sometimes over years) to the date the parties separated can take up days of trial time. Not only does this mean a significant legal bill, but you also need to consider the impact the content of those communications may have on a judge's view of your conduct. In short, it is important to understand at the outset that when you are going through a separation and divorce, everything you say to your soon-to-be Ex may, at some point, be before a Judge. Separation and divorce are stressful and frequently emotionally charged, as such, they tend not to bring out the best in people. The take away that I can share with you from my trial experience is this: no matter how hard, upsetting, or frustrating you believe the other party to be, it is extremely important that your communication with the other party does not reflect it.
Tips for Keeping Your Cool and Presenting Your Best Self at Trial
Things to bear in mind when communicating with your ex:
- Keep the tone neutral
- Be civil in your communication
- Be respectful - as hard as that may be. Think about how you want to be spoken to and take that as your guide.
- Do not unnecessarily make the communication difficult, particularly when trying to finalize decisions that impact your children - this is as much for your kids as it is for any future trial
- Do not use foul or aggressive language
- Respond in a timely manner and if you delay for good reason, explain the reason for the delay
- Choose one form of communication (either text or email, not a mix of both as it is difficult to keep track of if it gets to trial)
- Save all emails and texts. Don't edit material to make yourself look good - show your lawyer everything so he or she can decide how best to proceed
- If you receive communication that is upsetting, do not respond right away - take some time to calm down before answering so that you can keep the response neutral in tone or to decide whether to respond at all. If you feel the need to respond right away, one way to deal with the situation is to go ahead and draft an email getting out all your frustrations but DO NOT send it until you have given yourself a chance to calm down and edit your response.
- NOTE: If you have a lawyer, you may not want to consult your lawyer before responding. In some cases, the parties can and do communicate without the need for intervention by legal counsel, but if your situation is high conflict, it is not a bad call to let your lawyer know what is going on so they can advise you.
- At transitions of parenting time, greet the other party and be courteous to make the transition as stress-free and seamless as possible for the children
In some cases, it may be hard to keep communication civil, but you will be best served to minimize conflict in your communication with your Ex. The best way to approach all communication during a separation and divorce is to ask yourself, "if this was before a judge, what would the judge think?"
What Can You Do About Abusive Communication?
If you are finding communication with your Ex difficult, or your exchanges are resulting in escalating conflict, get help. If you have a counselor talk to them about communication styles and how to cope with aggressive or abusive communication. If you have a lawyer, talk to him or her about what you can do to diffuse the conflict and move toward a more productive way of negotiating your separation. Questions about communications issues during separation or divorce? We are here to help. Contact us for a free consultation.