Parent Communication After Separation or Divorce

Effective communication between parents can be tricky even when parents are in the same household. Following separation or divorce, the chances of poor communication and miscommunication increase.

How can parents, particularly those in high conflict cases, communicate effectively with each other about their children?

Establishing Effective Parental Communication

It is important that parents communicate with each other about their children, about parenting schedules, and about events and issues in their children's lives.

  • Schedules: It is helpful to maintain a clear schedule of parenting time, including scheduled vacation time. It is helpful to also add to the schedule any important events or activities involving the children.

  • School and Homework: It is helpful for both parents to be aware of any issues that have arisen in school, and to be aware of homework obligations and due dates.

  • Rules and Discipline: Parents who live separately will benefit, whenever possible, from creating a common set of household rules that are consistently enforced in both households.

  • Medical Issues: When a child has a medical issue it is helpful to communicate about the child's medical needs, and for the parent who may be taking the lead with medical care providers to share important information with the other parent..

  • Expenses: When a custody order provides for parents to contribute to specific expenses related to the children, it is helpful for parents to promptly inform each other when an expense is incurred and the amount that was paid.

In order to communicate effectively, parents should strive to:

  • Be Businesslike: Communication about the children should be civil, and should focus on parenting issues. If anger or hurt feelings get in the way, parents may consider using technology that allows them to communicate in writing or using an intermediary such as a parenting coordinator, and may benefit from seeking counseling so that they can effectively deal with those feelings in an appropriate setting.

  • Be Respectful: Parents should listen to each other's positions and concerns. Whenever possible, parents should make requests of each other as opposed to stating demands. Avoid jumping to conclusions, reacting prematurely, or belittling a concern that does not seem important to you. Understand that disagreements will occur, and that a history of mutual respect will help keep them from becoming overblown.

  • Be Consistent: Communication should occur regularly and consistently, as a matter of routine.

Communication should never be sent in anger. When a message is written in anger, parents should follow the practical advice of waiting 24 hours and then reviewing and revising the original message before hitting the "send" button.

Parents should also recall that their messages may potentially be introduced in court during later custody proceedings.

Keep the Children Out of the Middle

The biggest mistake that parents can make when communicating information back and forth is to use the children as messengers.

  • Any exchange of contentious messages through the children puts them in the middle of any conflict between the parents, when the children should be kept out of the conflict.

  • Asking children to pass along oral messages runs the risk that the child will misunderstand or misremember the message, or forget to share it, creating the potential for confusion or a break-down of communication.

  • Asking the children to pass notes, even when they're sealed in envelopes, leaves open the possibility that children will read the notes. Children may also lose notes, or forget to pass them along.

Using Communication Technology

When parents want to communicate with each other, a number of technologies are available. The level of conflict in the parents' relationship should be considered when deciding what technology or mixture of technologies represents their best choice.

  • Email and Text Messages: Parents may exchange information and messages by email or text message, creating a record of the communication while keeping their children out of the middle.

  • Online Documents: Online document services like Google Docs allow parents to create documents, calendars and spreadsheets through which they may collaborate and share information. Best of all, the services are free.

  • Parenting Software: For parents that have higher conflict divorces, subscription-based software is available that allows for the formal exchange of information and the maintenance of a parenting time schedule.

Parents should password-protect their accounts and devices, such that their children cannot access content of communication between the parents.

Copyright © 2016 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on Apr 12, 2018.