Communication is a tricky matter to begin with and let’s be honest (co-parenting makes it trickier), we have all had plenty of experience with miscommunication and resulting misunderstanding, sometimes through no fault of our own and sometimes it falls squarely on us. Tone, manner, volume, emotion or lack thereof, non-verbal cues like facial expression, pursed lips, narrowed eyes, eye-rolling, smirking, folded arms, clenched fists, etc., all factor in how we communicate verbally and visually.
Written communication can be even harder because there are no outside cues to provide context to the communication, it is just words in an email, text, instant message, note or whatnot yet words alone can still be very damaging.
When the relationship has gone sour and the connection between the parents falls apart, but they still have to parent their children, what does it do to communication? In short, often nothing good. One of the biggest complaints we hear is about communication and some of the following are common examples:
- I try to communicate by my ex just ignores me, never responds and then what am I supposed to do? They wrote us off and don’t want anything to do with us. It’s like we never existed.
- My ex never tells me anything, I have to ask and ask over and over again, calls go unanswered, texts are ignored, then if they do respond, they say I’m harassing them. It’s like they want me gone, out of their lives, like I never existed.
- I put everything in writing, EVERYTHING, because my ex lies all the time. No matter what I say or do, they lie about it so I have to put everything in writing to protect myself against my ex’s attacks on me as “alienating” them. I’m not alienating them, they just can’t be trusted.
- I try to talk to my ex, but no matter what I say, the answer is always “no.” It’s not about me, it’s about our kids. I know my ex hates me, but our kids get punished because my ex disagrees with me just to get back at me.
Communication is the number one factor for successful co-parenting, regardless of the amount of time the children spend with each parent. So much so, it is the very first factor under the custody statute, N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c): in determining the best interests of the children: “(1) The parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child.”
Our Supreme Court has long held that joint legal custody is the “preferred” arrangement and is defined as sharing the legal authority and responsibility for making “major” decisions regarding the child’s welfare, which requires the parties to maintain cooperation in matters of child rearing. Beck v. Beck, 86 N.J. 480 (1981). When there is a lack of communication, or poor communication, cooperation becomes very difficult.
In recent years, the Court has increasingly ordered communication between the parties occur through a program called Our Family Wizard. No, it is not a Wizard that magically makes a poor communication better or inspires one party or another to suddenly answer. It does, however, track every. single. communication. between the parties, saves it in the cloud so no one can alter it, delete it or revise it and can be downloaded so the Court, attorneys, therapists, etc. can see exactly what the communications look like, see the issues and try to find a way to help resolve them.
Our Family Wizard is so popular, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were ordered to use for their communications for their kids. Yes, even A list celebrities struggle with the communication/co-parenting problem. The struggle is real. All you can do is your best for your children. Communicate openly with a goal of mutual cooperation for your children and try to open the door to free-flowing discussion. But remember, if it is in writing, it will almost surely be evidence at some point so keep that in mind before you hit “send.”
Julie Burick, Esq. is a shareholder and partner at Adinolfi, Molotsky, Burick & Falkenstein, Esq. with 20 years experience practicing law. She focuses her practices on all aspects of divorce, family law, and its related matters.