At Mr. Custody Coach, we are not big proponents of children having “their own” cellphones under very many circumstances. This is particularly true of young children. Frankly, there is simply too much trouble to be entered into over a broad range of issues. However, should you choose to consider offering your child(ren) a cellphone for regular use when in a high-conflict post-divorce situation, it is extremely important that you understand the types of issues you will face. Additionally, the flip-side of this equation is when your high-conflict ex purchases a cellphone for the children to use regularly, including during your parenting time.
What to expect when you provide the cellphone
- The phone will be confiscated by the ex, either permanently or simply during their parenting time.
- The phone will “lost, stolen, or damaged.”
- The child will not be permitted to use the cellphone.
- You will be shocked to open your bill and find unusual phone call activity: high call volume, unknown phone numbers, long distance and/or overseas calls, exhorbidant text traffic, etc.
- Your high-conflict ex will use the phone to repeatedly call you at home, at work, at play, at unusual hours of the day and night.
What to expect when your high-conflict provides the cellphone
- Interference with your parenting time, whenever they want, wherever you are.
- Excessive contact – calls to the children 4, 5, 6 times per day or more!
- Accusations of “interfering with reasonable contact” when the phone isn’t answered whenever they call, every time they call.
- Accusations of being the culprit if the phone is lost, stolen, or damaged.
- The high-conflict ex interfering with education by calling or texting the child during school hours.
General concerns about children with cellphones
- GPS/Parental Tracking Options – if your high-conflict ex is providing the cellphone, be advised that most services offer GPS/Parent Tracking options that let the account holder know where the child is at all times. This means, the parent cannot only track the location of the child at any given time – they can track you as well!
- Cellphone Cameras – when a child is recruited to spy on behalf of the high-conflict ex, nothing is safe. Photos and/or videos can be surrepticiously obtained of you having a disagreement with your partner or child, an untidy home/room(s), a potentially inappropriate television show, phone conversations, personal conversations with friends of family, etc. This list is endless.
The cellphone becomes a potential 24/7 window into your home and all of your conversations, travel, activities, interactions… everything! You may think that this is an unnecessary level of paranoia. Don’t believe it! I assure you that many of the stories we’ve heard would certainly make your head spin and your jaw drop to the floor!
The key to appropriate cellphone use by children are the extraordinary measures that the parent chooses to take to prevent abuses by the high-conflict ex and the children. When you set appropriate boundaries for yourselves, your children, and the high-conflict ex-partner – you stand the best chance of maintaining appropriate contact with the children without opening your home to prying eyes and ears.
Some of the basic protections that you can provide for yourself while minimizing the invasion of your parenting time and keeping in compliance with most “reasonable telephone contact” orders include:
- The cellphone is not to be used in your home. It’s the most stringent boundary, but you have a house phone (or parent’s cellphone) for reasonable contact. You are unlikely to be violating any contact order by confiscating it to ensure it’s viability for return the parent who owns it. (Assumes high-conflict ex ownership.)
- The cellphone may be used in your home, but only during specific time periods where it is least likely to interfere with normal household activities, extracurricular activities, vacations, etc. (Assumes high-conflict ex ownership.)
- Restrictions on the phone numbers that can be called or which can call the cellphone. (Assumes your ownership.)
- Providing a cellphone without camera/video capabilities. (Assumes your ownership.)
- Restricting account features including, but not limited to: no texting, no calls before/after certain times during the day, no picture messaging, no internet access. (Assumes your ownership.)
Please keep in mind, if you are giving your child a cellphone to take with them to the high-conflict ex’s home – expect to live by their house rules, too, which will very likely be – no cellphone use. Further, if you send a cellphone, expect it not to be returned, so keep your financial investment in a phone as low as possible.
As always, for discussions regarding your specific situations, please visit the forums and post!