Communication After Divorce - What to Communicate About

The #1 issue I hear about from co-parents is communication. That’s a broad topic, so I’ll break it down over the next few weeks. This week, we’re going to talk about what is acceptable to expect communication on and what isn’t.

Let’s lay this out. You want to co-parent. You send updates, you ask questions, you try to work things out and you’re met with silence, or worse, attacks. When the tables are turned, you can’t get any information about your children from your ex. The kids come home and tell you what’s going on and you wish the information came from your ex because that’s what’s best for the children. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

It’s frustrating because you’re trying to do the right thing - communicate - and not only do you not get the same in return, you can’t even get important information from your ex.

If you’re in this situation, it’s time to decide what’s considered important information and get some help in ensuring BOTH parents are on the same page with communication. If your Court Order (CO) requires a certain form of communication, then you’re already set. If you’ve already agreed to a form of communication without a CO, that’s great, too. Keep moving on this path.

Then it’s time to decide what is non-negotiable in communication. You and your ex should decide this together, but I understand that this isn’t always possible without help. (We’ll talk about that at the end of the post.) Here are some ideas to help you get started on deciding what you believe should be open for communication:

  • Medical/Dental

  • School-related (e.g. grades, homework, etc.)

  • Extra-curricular activities

  • Religion

  • Significant Other’s

  • Behavior issues

  • Schedules outside of school and extra-curricular (e.g. sleep schedules, medication schedules, summer schedules or non-school day schedules, etc.)

  • Rules/Expectations (this could be everything from co-sleeping agreements to chores your children are responsible for)

  • As kids get older: jobs, driving and dating come up

This is just a simple list. Each of these categories could be broken up even more. Before you start making a list and sending an email over to your ex saying you expect communication on all of this, take a step back. This is the time for you to be the positive co-parent. If your ex has refused communication in the past, is it reasonable to suddenly expect him/her to start communicating on all of this? Probably not. I’d add that it will only frustrate you more to put this expectation on them if it’s not realistic. Start small and work your way up to the list. Prioritize communication. Decide what’s most important to communicate about and then work with your ex to ensure you're both communicating on it. If things start to work better, slowly add more and more to the what you’re communicating about - as long as your ex agrees.

How do you get this agreed on if your ex refuses to talk to you? There’s a 4-step approach I believe in and use myself:

  1. Start with a fact-based, non-confrontational email or text explaining that you’d like to work on communication with your ex and you’re ready to listen to their ideas

  2. If that goes nowhere, mediation or parent coordination is an inexpensive, non-confrontational approach involving a third party to help align communication between you and your ex

  3. If mediation is unsuccessful, and this is a battle you’re willing to continue with, going to court to ask for an addendum to your CO is your next option. Bring your ideas to court, explain mediation was unsuccessful and go from there.

  4. If you’re CO has been updated and communication hasn’t changed, you have the option to file for Contempt. Contact lawyers in your area to learn more about this. (Know that filing for contempt, which is literally ensuring your ex is punished for not following the CO will take any co-parenting relationship back several steps. If they were unwilling to communicate prior to this, they certainly aren’t going to be quick to communicate afterwards. The point of a CO is to protect you and make this option available, but it does hurt positive co-parenting.)

Finally, in some cases, communication just isn’t an option. Short-term or long-term, if communication isn’t an option for you, you are parallel parenting. You can learn more in other blog posts here. Parallel parenting is meant to lessen communication in an effort to give co-parents a break from each other, take away the conflict by removing as much communication as possible, and allow you to focus on your time with your kids and rebuilding your life. Parallel parenting isn’t always permanent and while it’s not the best solution, it’s a helluva  better solution than high-conflict attempts at co-parenting.

From a quiz to tell you exactly what difficult personality type your dealing with to tips for communicating with them, strategies to manage your own frustrations (so you don't become the problem) and general communication ideas for all high-conflict co-parents, this course has it all.