When embroiled in a high-conflict divorce and custody dispute, we highly recommend no-contact. When children are involved, no-contact is impractical, so we are proponents of what is often referred to as low-contact. In keeping with this recommendation, we offer the Top 10 Commandments of Low-Contact:
#1 – THOU SHALT ONLY COMMUNICATE IN WRITING!
Communication between the parents shall only be in written form except in the event of a true emergency situation pertaining to the children. Written communications may be in the form of email, fax, text message, U.S. Mail, telegram, or any other forum of documented media. Documented communication will not be given to the children to deliver to the other party under any circumstances. (Consider using Our Family Wizard – it’s proven to be a great resource for more effective communication and is spreading like wildfire throughout the country as a tool recommended by family court systems.)
#2 – THOU SHALT NOT USE THE CHILDREN AS MESSENGERS OR GO-BETWEENS!
At no time should the children be used to communicate messages from one parent to the other parent either verbally (a violation of the first commandment) or in documented form – even if sealed! This excludes communication that is directly between the children and the other parent if the child, of their own accord, chooses to communicate about upcoming events, such as sports or school activities. As long as the children are not specifically delivering a message from you to the other parent, you will be in compliance with this commandment.
#3 – THOU SHALT COMMUNICATE BY TELEPHONE ONLY IN THE EVENT OF A TRUE EMERGENCY PERTAINING TO THE CHILDREN!
Not much further explanation is necessary here. You will find that the high-conflict ex-partner will find ways to try to get you to violate the provision of this commandment by making events which are not “true emergencies” – into an emergency. That is the beauty of voice mail. You don’t have to answer the phone if you have voice mail or an answering machine. A true emergency will necessitate a message from which you can make the decision to pick up the phone and return the call for details. Expect that there may be an occasion where a true emergency exists and the high-conflict parent will purposefully not leave a message. There is nothing you can do about that. It’s a risk we all must take when dealing with the high-conflict ex.
#4 – THOU SHALT NOT USE INFLAMMATORY LANGUAGE IN WRITTEN COMMUNICATIONS TO THE OTHER PARENT!
You will try your very best to avoid using language that is accusatory, judgmental, demanding, or flat-out foul and abusive. Further, sending too much information back and forth can actually create more conflict. “Co-Parenting Journals” can often become a source of escalating conflict. We are not proponents of using such journals to detail the events of your parenting time. They offer far too many opportunities for the high-conflict ex to pass judgment and communicate with you about what you’re doing, when, why, how, and with whom. Avoid using them. You will learn sooner rather than later that you cannot control how your ex parents or any of the things he/she does (that don’t violate the law, and sometimes not even then). Get over your desire to teach them the right way of doing things.
#5 – THOU SHALT ONLY RESPOND TO ITEMS THAT ARE OF IMPORTANCE PERTAINING TO THE CHILDREN!
You have very likely experienced the long-winded diatribe accusing you of unspeakable horrors and passing judgment on you as a human being wrapped around an actual matter of importance pertaining to the children. You shall ignore all of the extraneous windbagging and only respond to the matter of importance pertaining to the children as if nothing else was contained within the high-conflict ex’s communication. You will do this every time.
#6 – THOU SHALT USE BULLETED-POINTS OR SOME OTHER EQUALLY EFFECTIVE MEANS OF KEEPING YOUR COMMUNICATION SHORT AND TO-THE-POINT!
Less is more. Always. We often recommend using bullet-points to address any issue or issues using the fewest words possible. We will document examples on our Case Study pages to show how this method is handled. You are not writing a novel. You are stopping just short of using shorthand. Does anybody even know what shorthand is nowadays? Stick to the facts as you know them and only as they are in keeping with commandment #5.
#7 – THOU SHALT AVOID, WHENEVER POSSIBLE, FACE-TO-FACE CHILD CUSTODY EXCHANGES!
This is not always practical in every single case. In those situations, we recommend a high visibility, public place such as a supermarket parking lot, a movie theatre parking lot, a shopping mall parking lot. Having lots of witnesses around often stifles the high-conflict ex’s penchant for “causing a scene.”
Where is it practical? At schools or daycare centers where one parent drops the children off in the morning and the other parent can pick them up. In long-distance situations, it would be the airport terminal or bus station.
#8 – THOU SHALT PARALLEL PARENT AND NOT CO-PARENT!
We are major proponents of co-parenting where there doesn’t exist a high-conflict post-divorce relationship. However, if you are here, that is unlikely to be the case in your situation. While difficult to accept initially, once you learn that you cannot control what the other parent does on their parenting time, the sooner you can let go of attempts to try. You parent during your parenting time, the other parent parents on their time. Each parent does it their own way.
Communication, interaction, in-person exchanges are eliminated or dramatically reduced. Parents do not write each other to discuss the daily events of the children (what we refer to as “idle chit-chat”). Each parent may be in attendance at events during the other’s parenting time, but maintain a good distance so as to avoid any direct interaction with the high-conflict ex.
NOTE: Learn not to be offended if your children fail to stop by to see you after any event that takes place on the other’s parenting time. They may stop over for a quick hug and kiss and head back to the other parent. Respect their need to avoid conflict and not be put in-between parents or otherwise feel as though their loyalty is being compromised. If you’re teaching them how to be good people and giving them appropriate love, they’ll feel safe doing what they need to do to maintain their own peace of mind.
#9 – THOU SHALT AVOID, WHENEVER POSSIBLE, MAKING ALTERATIONS TO THE PARENTING SCHEDULE!
This is one of those edicts that is not always practical. Unfortunately, situations do arise that may necessitate broaching the subject of making adjustments to the custodial periods. Perhaps you’re a non-custodial parent who has very limited time with your children and you’ll take any extra time you can get! We understand and that is okay! However, if it is at all possible, avoid initiating or agreeing to changes in the parenting schedule absent a real pressing need to do so.
Change may be necessary in a true emergency or you have an appointment that you must attend which cannot be changed for employment or health-related reasons. If you must make a change that sees you giving up parenting time, do so without an expectation that make-up time will be given absent language in your court order or agreement requiring it. We’re not saying don’t ask for it, but avoid entering into negotiating at all costs. If the answer isn’t “yes” – it’s no. Nothing more or less. There is no grey area. Absent a YES answer, the answer is no every time.
#10 – THOU SHALT INSIST ON CUSTODY SCHEDULE LANGUAGE THAT LEAVES LITTLE OR NO ROOM FOR AMBIGUITY OR EXPLOITATION!
Be very clear about this: If there is an opportunity for a high-conflict ex-partner to exploit vague language in a custody order/agreement or some other loophole, they will do it. Conflict almost always results when the language of a custody arrangement is too loose or uses vague language. Avoid allowing a final order to be entered that will require the following types of clauses:
- Clauses that leave you with undefined parenting time such as “reasonable visitation.”
- Clauses that allow one parent to dictate the parenting time of the other
- Clauses requiring parents to regularly communicate and agree on scheduled parenting time.
The stronger (or more “air-tight”) the language of your custody order/agreement, the less communication you need to have with the high-conflict ex in order to perform to the clause.
Avoid deviating from the court order at all, but most especially when it comes to parenting time (see commandment #9). Requests for deviations invite conflict. The “high-road” people often refer to isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and can also invite its share of conflict. For instance, a parent tries to keep the peace and take the “high road” may accommodate a change in a holiday schedule, summer schedule, or otherwise change the schedule for some “special” day. It invites conflict, particularly if there is some expectation on the part of the “good parent” for some reciprocation from the high-conflict parent. The “high road” parent may feel short-changed because the change altered the schedule to their detriment (loss of some parenting time). Perhaps there are frequent exceptions to the routine, leading the “good” parent to feel pressured or obligated to repeatedly accommodate the other.
If you want to keep the conflict to a minimum, avoid changes to the custody order/agreement as often as possible, if not always. Stick to the court order, until you can make agreed-upon changes which can be filed as an updated order. Another way to see meaningful changes is to file a custody modification petition (if you have just cause to do so). A judge will make a ruling on modifications to the existing arrangement resulting from the hearing on the petition. Then, follow the new order accordingly.
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