Whether you are divorced, separated, or were never married, if you are no longer with the co-parent of your child(ren), odds are the two of you have some problems communicating well with each other. This can lead to all sorts of problems communicating important information about your kids. Some former couples work well with each other using in-person talks and phone calls. Others can barely stand to be within eyesight of one another—let alone hear the sounds of each other’s voices—without it leading to a big blow up, hurt feelings, and misunderstandings. If you fall into the latter category, below are some useful suggestions to help you and your ex communicate better with each other and, hopefully, co-parent better.
E-mail should be the primary form of non-urgent/non-emergency communication. I know, I know. Texting is so much easier and faster but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. Using e-mail greatly reduces the chances of misunderstandings. It is especially useful when conveying to your co-parent important information like the children’s schedules, their school activities, their medical appointments, their holiday activities, proposed temporary changes to the parenting time schedule, and more.
Use the same e-mail account for all communications with your co-parent. Pick one specific e-mail address to use for communications with your co-parent and stick with it. These days, most people have a work e-mail address and a few personal accounts. Each one can show up differently in someone’s inbox. This can lead to important communications being overlooked. By using the same one every time, your co-parent knows what to look for when checking his or her e-mail. You can even create a brand-new e-mail account solely for communications between you and your co-parent. Just make sure you check it once or twice a day.
E-mails should be short, to the point, and only sent when necessary. The longer you make your e-mails, the more you go off on tangents, and the more frequently you send a barrage of e-mails to your co-parent, the more likely it is that important information will be ignored or overlooked. If you need to send an e-mail on a variety of issues, number them, so your co-parent can respond to each issue specifically by number in his or her reply.
Use your children’s names in the subject line and what it relates to. Most people get dozens, if not hundreds, of e-mails a day. A subject line featuring your child’s name is far more likely to catch your co-parent’s eye than something generic. It also makes it easy to find if your co-parent needs to go back and review it for details later. Some examples of good subject lines are “Peter’s Scout Meeting”; “Suzie’s Swimming Lesson”; “Terry’s October 24th Doctor’s Appt.”; “Peter and Suzie’s Sports Schedule for May”.
Keep things respectful. Often when communication issues don’t improve, co-parents end up in front of a judge trying to work out some problem or another that they couldn’t resolve on their own. So before sending an e-mail to your co-parent, say to yourself, “What would the judge think if this gets read in court?” So that means, NO name-calling, NO abusive language, and NO using pet-names your co-parent hates.
Don’t use e-mails to re-litigate your divorce or re-start old fights. E-mails about the children should provide specific information, relate to future events, or request some child-related future action. Avoid the temptation to blame your co-parent for difficulties, make judgments about past events, or address previously unresolved issues that aren’t related to the kids.
Address financial issues in separate e-mails. It’s tempting to include everything in one e-mail but it’s not always a good idea. Avoid adding lines like, “And you’re 5 days late with child support” to an e-mail about the kids’ medical appointments. Those issues should be addressed in a separate e-mail to your co-parent.
Don’t involve the children or new significant others in your communications. It is never a good idea to cc your children or your new significant other on e-mails to your co-parent. It is also never a good idea to have them e-mail your co-parent instead of you. In addition to possibly furthering bad feelings, these things also have the potential for incorrect information being relayed and putting them in the middle of issues between you and your co-parent.
Responses should be timely. If an e-mail from your co-parent does not require a response, it’s still a good idea to reply and let him or her know you received the message. If an e-mail requires a response, you should respond timely. It’s ok to include deadlines to respond but you should only do this if a response is necessary by a certain date or time. Any deadlines should be realistic—no, “If you don’t reply within 5 minutes, I’ll take that to mean…”).
Text or call only in urgent or emergency situations. It’s okay every now and again to send your co-parent a text saying, “Hit traffic. Will be 10-15 mins late for pick-up” or to call if a child needs to be rushed to the hospital but, otherwise, you should stick to e-mail using the tips above.