By Douglas J. Manning, Partner, Certified Specialist in Family Law
A divorce ends a marriage but when children are involved parents still have to remain in communication with each other. You can divorce your spouse, but you can’t be divorced from your kids’ other parent.
However, the reality is that often the last person you want to speak with may be your former spouse and you especially don’t want to speak with him/her when you know it is going to be an argument over such things as making sure the kids’ sports equipment comes home or who is picking the children up from school to get them to their dance lessons or can we exchange weekends with the kids because one of you has a conflicting obligation. I am sure you get the picture – life’s vagaries create opportunities for conflict and debate. No matter how hard you tried to put in writing every possible contingency for which parent was going to do what and when and how to resolve stalemates (in your Separation Agreement/Parenting Plan/Minutes of Settlement), there are still going to be times when events occur that could not have been contemplated at the time you were crafting your parenting manifesto.
It is my impression (as a family law lawyer in Ontario for 30 years) that there is an increasing frequency of joint custody arrangements being put in place. This means that there is more need for communication and cooperation which means more opportunities for communication, or should I say, miscommunication, with your former partner/parent of your child/ren. However, the last thing you want to do is to play out the argument, with the usually attendant raised voices and reminders of past transgressions, in front of the children. Well, there are high-tech solutions – sort of joint custody at a distance.
The use of electronic media can serve to keep the other parent at a “psychological distance” as opposed to being right there “in your face” debating the finer points of how many changes of socks the children should have in their overnight bag. The electronic medium/media can provide something of a filter for your emotions and lower the likelihood that you will react to the emotional “buttons” that you know your former spouse can push if given the opportunity – even if it is just the sound of their voice that creates an emotional trigger. The 2 dimensional written email/text etc. may be a partial answer for this.
Some of my clients have commented that Email/texts has taken away the emotional pitfalls and points of possible irritation that often accompanies joint custodial arrangements.
One resource that a number of my clients have tried and found beneficial is “Our Family Wizard”. This software enables both parents to sign up and use it for a number of purposes. It has a calendaring feature that allows both parents to put the normal parenting schedule on the calendar and then include special requests and allows for them to look for overlapping commitments and conflicts. The program also provides a communication feature that creates a history of the messages back and forth, much like a diary or communications book. Before typing that angry, nonproductive message, the creator is aware that the history of communications is kept for posterity and may be used in court documents at a later time if things go completely off the rails.
I invite you to take a tour of the program at http://www.ourfamilywizard.com/ofw/