Effective communication between parents after separation is important for the wellbeing of both parents and children. In families where there is a high level of conflict between parents, children are at a greater risk of developing emotional, social and behavioural problems, as well as difficulties with concentration and educational achievement.
The ability of separated parents to parent successfully depends on their preparedness to communicate with each other effectively. This is particularly difficult when there is animosity between the parties, as is often the case in the early years after separation.
However, good communication is possible even in difficult circumstances, if both parents are prepared to put the childrens’ welfare before their feelings about the other parent.
There are various tools that can be used to assist communication between parents.
So what is good communication?
Good communication is framed in terms of what is poor communication.
The case law contains numerous examples of poor communication, such as;
- where parents communicate through the children rather than speaking directly to one another;
- where parents discuss their feelings about the separation and the family law proceedings with the children
- where parents are hostile and aggressive towards one another in front of the children
- where a parent asks the children detailed questions about the other parent
- where the children feel as though they need to hide their feelings about the other parent from the parent they are with at the time
The early years after separation
In the majority of cases, during the 2-3 years after separation, parents can find it very difficult to talk to each other even to make arrangements to spend time with the children. This is usually a highly emotional time for parents and children and it can take some time for everyone involved to work through the issues.
Whilst communication can be very difficult initially, in 90% of cases, communication improves with time. The remaining 10% of relationships contain elements of hostility for many years after separation.
It is critically important to shelter children from communication breakdowns and disagreements between parents, not only because it is important for the childrens’ psychological and emotional wellbeing, but also because if parents are poor communicators the court is likely to make orders for the children to live with one parent and spend limited time with the other parent.
Children should not be used as a communication tool. Using them to pass messages back and forth and asking them for information about personal and legal matters puts the children in the middle of the dispute which can inadvertently force them to choose sides.
The court takes exception to parents that use children to communicate with the other parent.
Another example of poor communication is where one parent exhibits anxiety and a negative attitude towards the other parent in the presence of the children.
In this situation the court will be challenged to make appropriate orders that balance the need to separate the parents with the need of the children to spend time with each parent.
Yet another example of poor communication is where one parent shows open hostility and aggression towards the other parent. In such a case the court is likely to order that the children do not spend overnight time with the hostile and aggressive party.
Strategies for good communication
If you cannot communicate effectively, a communication book can be used to pass messages between parents. Generally the book stays with the children and each parent can write down notes to the other parent. These notes can refer to things like upcoming school events, homework that has or hasn’t been completed, any comments made or raised by the children and other such things that need to be communicated between parties. Parents often find that after emotions have settled down and effective communication has been restored that they no longer need to use the Communication Book.
An alternative to the communication book is phone app “eCommBook”. The app aims to make communication between separated parents easier and less stressful. Functions of the app include the ability to securely send and receive communication, a diary for appointments and important dates for the children, a separate diary for each parent to write down their thoughts and feelings, a separate area for children to communicate with each parent, a space to record information about the children such as medical history, sporting achievements and interests and also a platform to easily upload and share photos with each other.
In addition the app tags all communication with its location. In the unfortunate event that a breach of Family Violence Intervention Order occurs this information can be shared with the Court as evidence if required.
The terms and conditions of the app provide an authority that allows them to provide information to the Police in relation to any investigation concerning alleged violence and alleged domestic violence.
There is a minimal monthly subscription fee to use the eCommBook app.
Further information can be found at their website https://www.ecommbook.com/.
There are many other websites and apps regarding co-parenting and step families that you may find informative, such as;
- http://stepfamily.org.au/ – they also have an app “mymob”;
- Parenting Apart;
- Our family wizard;
- Custody connection;
- Custody junction.