Appropriate Contact

Our Communications Main Page offers a wealth of insight, tips, and suggestions that are all centered around low-contact with the high-conflict ex-partner.  It would do everyone well to re-visit that page often to stay on course.

This page, however, is dedicated to making a determination of how much contact with your children is “appropriate” and how to address this in our custody agreement.

Again, many variables that are unique to each situation need to be considered when crafting a plan for implementation.  The primary issues will be the age of the children and the availability of technology at either or both homes.

  • How do I address phone contact?
  • How do I address email contact?
  • How do I address the cell phone issue?
  • Can I use internet video conferencing?
  • Where?  When?  How long?

With regard to a cellphone for the child(ren), we effectively address those issues at our Kids’ Cellphone Page, so we will not belabor those points here.

Email contact doesn’t require lengthy discussion here, either.  If your children have access to their own email account, chances are you are already communicating via email.  Be warned, however, that the ex-partner very likely has access to the child’s email account, much like you probably do.  Communicate with your child via email with the understanding that the communication is unlikely to be entirely private.  I urge the same high level of caution regarding my oft-repeated mantra: “Anything you say or write can and will be used against you…” Be sure that your communications are focused on the child, his/her activities, school work, interaction with friends, sports, etc.

Video-Conferencing is just starting to come into its own as an alternative “visitation” method.  We’re currently lukewarm on this development as it’s simply no replacement for face-to-face personal interaction between a parent and their child.  We believe that for long-distance custodial situations, it’s a wonderful tool.  We believe that for regular communications in a shared-custody situation or close-proximity situation, it’s a wonderful tool.  We just don’t want to see this become a replacement for actual one-to-one (or more) hands-on parenting time.

As a communication method, we’re fairly confident that this is a great means to preclude interference that is normally encountered with phone contact.  Certainly, it won’t stop a high-conflict, interfering ex from looming nearby out of sight of the camera, but a child’s body language and actual words might tell you all you need to know.

Primarily – PHONE CONTACT is the means of communication.  It’s also the most abused, controlled, manipulated means of interfering in the parent-child relationship by the high-conflict ex.

Interestingly enough, in the early days of my own custody battle, I was stifled at every turn when it came to phone contact with my own children.  My experiences included some that are likely familiar to all:

  1. Calls went unanswered.
  2. Calls went unreturned.
  3. Calls were interrupted or cut short.
  4. Communication was “held hostage” by “Jane” unless I sat and listened to her latest abusive and vulgar tirade.
  5. The children were always doing something “more fun than talking with dad” at the usual calling times, which I tried to do just before bed-time in order to minimize such chances for interference.

It was disheartening because I didn’t do that.  Even when Jane was doing all she could to interfere with or otherwise disrupt my phone calls to the children, I always gave the children the phone for discussion when she called and I had the children.

The natural thought was, well, since there is no provision specifying call times and frequency, I am going to craft one that does and try to get it implemented at the next opportunity to revise the agreement!  The main issues for consideration would be: frequency, duration, and time of call.

Frequency could be 1x per week, 3x per week, every single day if you think it’s appropriate.

Time could be any time, bed time, lunch time, snack time, whatever time you think is appropriate.

Duration could be 5-minutes, 15-minutes, an hour, all-day if you think it’s appropriate.

You may be wondering what the hell I’m talking about.  It certainly doesn’t seem like I’m thinking clearly here, does it?  Bear with me…

I went for daily phone calls for the children, between 7PM and 8PM, with no specified duration, after all, who wants to force children to talk for longer or shorter than conversation just naturally will flow?  The time period I chose was appropriate for them as 8PM was their bedtime and I would typically call just before them to “touch base” about how their day was and tell them that I loved them before verbally “tucking them in.”

It was the only thing the judge declined during a wholesale revision of our custody order.  Everything else I had requested was implemented.  I was disappointed then.  However, over the last few years, it turned into a blessing in disguise.

What did I learn about specified duration? I’ve learned from several real-life, high-conflict situations that if an order/agreement specifies that a parent may speak with the child between 7PM and 8PM, a high-conflict parent will force you and the children, under threat of litigation, to be on that phone for that entire hour.  And if the entire hour isn’t used, they start demanding make-up phone time.  If it says 5-minutes, the high-conflict will hang up the phone on you when 5-minutes has expired… and it really doesn’t matter what the duration is, count on them watching the clock and ending the call when they’ve met the terms of the order.

What did I learn about specified frequency? I’ve learned from I’ve learned from several real-life, high-conflict situations that if an order/agreement specifies that a parent may speak with the child 5-days per week, Monday-thru-Friday between  7PM and 8PM – that you’re in violation of the court order if you’re NOT available for phone conversation on those days at that time.  This goes for both parents.  Can you imagine how much this would limit any number of activities?  Vacations?  What if you were in a movie that started at 6:45PM and ended at 9:00PM?  With a high-conflict ex, a failure to be at home for a phone call on those prescribed days at those prescribed times is a license to litigate when something comes up that precludes that from happening.

What did I learn about specified times? I’ve learned from several real-life, high-conflict situations that if an order/agreement specifies that a parent may speak with the child betwen 7PM and 8PM, regardless of frequency – any failure… ANY  failure… to be available at that time will be a violation of the court order and license for the high-conflict ex-partner to litigate.

Our current order reads simply: “Reasonable phone contact with the children shall be permitted by each parent for the other.”

Granted, this completely vague and totally open-ended clause would seem to be genuinely the worst-case scenario in a high-conflict situation.  Despite my disappointment, I made a conscious decision to “give to Jane as good as Jane gave to me” on the phone calls issue.

  • I answered the phone only as many times as Jane answered the phone, thereby deferring to Jane to determine what is “reasonable.”  If 0-calls during my week was reasonable from Jane, then 0-calls was reasonable for Jane during her week.  If it was 1 time, that’s what I gave back.  If it was 5-times, that’s what I gave back.  If she called back after a missed call, I returned the favor.  If she didn’t, I didn’t.  I allowed Jane to determine what was reasonable without her ever knowing it!
  • If Jane hung up the phone after 5-minutes, 15-minutes, 30-minutes… I did the same for Jane, after all, Jane’s actions demonstrated for me (and ultimately the court) what was reasonable on her terms.
  • If Jane only answered the phone between 7PM and 8PM (my preference in both directions), that’s when I answered my phone when she called, after all – Jane’s actions determined for everyone what defined reasonable.

Within a month’s time, Jane wised-up realizing that I gave as good as I got and as soon as I stopped taking the “proverbial high road” on the phone calls issue – the phone calls issue went away.  Her need to speak to the children frequently during my parenting time was greater than her desire to interfere with my phone calls during her parenting time.  She knew that there was a direct consequence for what she was doing to me solely due to her maliciousness and viciousness.

Like Pavlov’s dog, when she learned that her behaviors resulted in certain rewards (or sanctions), her behavior changed.  Nowadays, my phone calls are usually answered and I limit my calls now to a maximum of 3-times per week, more often than not it’s 2 calls of short duration (under 15-minutes TOTAL to speak to both boys).

THE LESSON: Now, there is absolutely no guarantee that this would be the end-result in your case.  However, YOU MUST REALIZE that unless you write a host of exceptions into the phone communication clause of the agreement – your decision to specify any or all of duration, frequency, and time – can wreak complete havoc on your ability to plan anything in your life.  Your life shall only be planned around the specifics of the phone communication clause in your agreement with zero flexibility built-in.

Think very carefully how you want to proceed on this issue.  Our recommendation on phone communication with the children: vague is definitely better!

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