After parties separate communication goes down the toilet. It is amazing how two people who once loved each other now cannot stand each other. Not a nice word is said. The air around them is toxic. Any attempt at communicating ends up in a mud slinging contest.
In cases where there are no children this does not really matter much. Once property matters have been sorted between the two people, it is all over. There’s no need to keep the communication between the parties going.
If there are children, it becomes a different story. Mother and father, despite hating each other’s black guts, will need to continue to communicate about the children. This does not mean you have to talk to each other all the time. No. There may not be much communication, but some will be necessary from time to time.
In the early days, when you are trying to work out the arrangements for the children it may be that there is more communication between the two of you than is necessary, but once you have a parenting plan or a set of court orders, there will be very little to communicate about.
However, it would be nice for the sake of the children that when you do communicate with your ex, it is done civilly and cordially. Kids should not be exposed to yelling, abuse and threats by their parents.
Things that may need to be communicated to the other parent are things like:
- Birthday parties (or sleep over invites etc.) that are to occur during the other parent’s time. To be fair you should communicate the invitation to the other parent and the child’s wish to go. It should then be that parent that tells the child they cannot go if they do not want to take the child there. There may be valid reasons for not going to the party and the parent making the decision should tell the child (something like ‘sorry you cannot go the party Matthew but I have already booked tickets to [insert sport event].)
- Medication. You will always need to communicate any medication the children are taking to the other parent.
- If the children have been sick before going into the care of the other parent.
In high conflict break ups there is usually too much communication going on between the parents. Phone calls, text messages and emails about minute details.
After your separation your parenting will change. You no longer have control over what happens at the other parents’ home. Unless there are safety concerns there is nothing you can do about this. If bedtime at the other house is at 8.30pm and your house at 7.00pm, so be it. You cannot dictate to your ex how to parent. Similarly they cannot tell you how to parent.
This is where a communication book comes in. Judges in the Family Court do not like to see conflict, particularly if it occurs in front of the children. If parties cannot communicate face to face, use a contact book.
The contact book is usually an exercise book going between the parents’ home in the children’s bag.
Just because you have agreed to use a contact book does not mean you have to write in it all the time. In fact, you should not be writing in it much at all.
The contact book is not an invitation for you to comment on:
- The parenting style of the other parent. Do not write in the contact book things the other parent should or should not do. This is not what a contact book is about. Few of us respond well to criticism, even less so after a separation. Keep your opinions to yourself.
- Write a novel about what the children got up to at your house and how happy they were. It goes without saying the children enjoy seeing both parents and they have fun with them. If you have re-partnered and your partner has children, again there is no need to go into chapter and verse of how the children got on and how wonderful the new partner is with the kids. Chances are your ex does not want to know this, nor does he or she need to know this.
- Nothing personal should go into the contact book.
Things that should be written in the contact book include:
- Any medication administered at your house. For example: John fell off his bike at 10am. Afterwards he complained of a sore head. I gave him Panadol at midday. He is due for another does after 4pm if he is still complaining of pain. Was not bad enough to take him to the doctors.
- If you send the child with medication make sure you note this in the contact book. Example: Mary saw the GP on Thursday with her cold not getting better. The doctor believes she is dealing with a secondary infection and prescribed antibiotics. She needs to take 5ml three times a day with food. She’s not keen on taking it but needs to make sure she finishes the dose.
- If the children have been sick whilst in your care, again this should be noted in the contact book. Example: Emily started vomiting around mid morning. She had no lunch and whilst she was feeling better by 3.00pm I did not give her any solid food. She has had some water, which she seemed to be able to keep down. It was not serious enough to take her to the doctor.
If you stick to facts in your communication book chances are it will be better received than if you are critical and judgmental. As kids get older beware they might read what has been written in the book. If you are clinical and factual this is not a problem. However, if there has been abuse leveled at the other parent this may not be received well by the children. Remember, criticizing the other parent in front of the children is never a good thing to do. Children feel as if they are being criticized.
If at any time you are not sure if you should write something in the contact book, chances are you should not. Read it out aloud. Does it offend? Does it judge? Does it criticize? If the answer is yes to any one of these (or all them), you should not be putting it in.
Communication etiquette is a two way street. If the other parent does not adhere to it you are entitled to stop using it all together.
Remember to seek legal advice for your particular situation. This article is of a general nature and should not be taken as legal advice.