Christian parents who are going through a hard, hurtful divorce sometimes make choices that reflect the brokenness that we all battle on a daily basis. And sometimes, these choices come back to hurt the parent going through the divorce as well as the children who are unwilling participants in the divorce process.
But there is a better way. Parents can create a win-win situation that benefits their children and their position before a judge by co-parenting effectively using clear, constructive communications.
Proverbs 15:1: A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
So much of co-parenting is done via text messages. With a little skill, parents can ensure a favorable outcome. Below are five healthy tips for communicating with your co-parent.
1. Keep your communication short
If the message or request requires more than a few sentences, it is likely better solved through a verbal conversation. Rarely will a lengthy email or text help solve a co-parenting issue. A short, concise note minimizes the chances the other co-parent will be distracted or triggered by something you said.
2. Maintain a child-focused perspective
Adding jabs about a parent’s past behavior is so tempting – DON’T DO IT. These jabs immediately escalate a situation, ruining a moment where you could otherwise show positive co-parenting. If your estranged spouse insists on adding jabs, the best course of action is to ignore that part of the message or simply say, “I disagree with you, and would prefer to keep this conversation focused on the kids.” Remember, these text messages can be used as evidence in front of the judge, and your goal should be to stay above all the negativity.
3. Present a clear concern or request
Your communication should be simple and direct. Focus on what is actually needed and resist the temptation to critique or lecture the other parent. Additional brief information is also helpful, including why a specific request benefits the children. Read through your message and make sure there is no unnecessary information or language hiding the actual ask. Be as specific as, “I am trying to book a cooking summer camp for Lucy at the YMCA. Are you willing to pick her up at 3:00 p.m. each day during the week of June 1st if I will drop her off in the mornings?” Keep your primary goal in mind and don’t get sidetracked by peripheral issues. If the text originates from a concern, starting with a kind note and then expressing your concern can be helpful. For example, “I know you always keep an eye on these things, I just wanted to share that I am worried about Julie’s sore throat. Can you please let me know how she is feeling after school? If I do not hear from you, I will assume she is feeling better and does not need to go to the doctor.”
4. Offer a specific proposal and deadline
Taking the previous step further, pair your ask with a deadline or proposed action. Using the example above, the co-parent sending this message should include a follow-up sentence requesting their co-parent respond by a specific time. For example, “Can you please let me know if you can pick her up at 3:00 p.m. each day by this coming Friday? If I do not hear from you by then, I will assume you are unable to pick her up, and I will arrange other transportation.” In setting a deadline, the asking co-parent protects themselves from having to wait an unreasonable amount of time for a response while also establishing clear expectations.
This type of deadline and proposal model should not be used to threaten consequences. It simply requests a response by a specific time and indicates the next course of action if no response is given. If one parent immediately rejects the proposal or responds negatively, the requesting co-parent may provide additional context to renew their request. In our summer camp scenario, if the responding co-parent immediately disagrees, the requesting co-parent might say, “I understand your perspective. I wanted to share that your sister also signed her kids up for the camp, and I think it would be great for Lucy to see her cousins this summer. Would you be willing to reconsider, given this information?”
5. Communicate in a friendly manner
Whether you are sending an inquiry or responding to an inquiry, make sure your response is friendly and kind. (Remember Proverbs 15:1) The only communication you can control is your own. Always strive to provide a prompt response to your estranged spouse, and if you are unable to do so, take a deep breath and buy yourself some time with a response like, “I am currently at dinner, but I will be sure to respond to you by tomorrow morning.” This will help you take a step back and reflect on a healthy reply. One tip is to read your messages aloud before sending them. Or even better, ask a trusted friend to read your response and see how it comes across.
Keeping lines of communication open during divorce is challenging under the best of circumstances. Hurt or hard feelings can make it even more difficult. However, by practicing these five healthy tips for communicating with your co-parent, you can create a win-win situation–a more productive relationship with your co-parent and a more sympathetic hearing in front of the judge.
Please contact Jeff Domen if you have questions about co-parenting advice or child custody. Jeff Domen, an accomplished family trial lawyer in Texas, has deep expertise in complex child custody and financial matters, including stock options, pensions, and financial issues related to privately-owned companies. Jeff is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and has been recognized as a Top 100 Dallas/Fort Worth Super Lawyer in 2020 by Thomson Reuters.
Jeff lives in Frisco with his wife and four children and is an active member of Hope Fellowship Church, where he participates in the Adventure Kids Ministry. He is passionate about educating others on effective parenting skills and teaches parenting classes based on the book “Loving Our Kids On Purpose” by Danny Silk, along with his wife, Melanie, who is a parenting coach.
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