We’ve all been there. An email comes in and you’re angry before you even read it. Your phone buzzes, you look down, and just from the re line your blood pressure is already rising.
Being human, you open the message, read it, and fire-off a response as fast as Siri can take dictation (though, because you’re spitting mad, she misunderstands you the first ten times, leading you to try to type the entire thing, mercilessly autocorrected the entire way).
The result feels cathartic. Or at least it does until you see the email/text message/ Facebook message/ etc. appended to an affidavit.
And in that spirit, I bring you:
Seven Emails Never to Send Your Ex if You Want Joint Custody
- “Our battle will continue until you are willing to equally share time with the kids.”
- “[I]f you want a healthy positive [co-parenting] relationship, agree to joint 50-50 custody, move out of OUR home and agree to minimal spousal maintenance for a short-term. Unless you do this we will never have a healthy positive relationship.”
- “As far as I’m concerned Hell is not hot enough for you and the sooner you get there the better.”
- “Keep fueling my anger. . . it is going to come back to haunt you.”
- “We will NEVER have a co-parenting relationship with flexibility until you agree to a 50-50 custody schedule. . . . Trial is looming and it will be ugly and costly. You can avoid it by finally compromising, vacate the house, 50-50 custody and get a real job.”
- “I will never forgive u.”
- “Until you respect me as a father and compromise on our settlement our relationship will only grow worse.”
The above are pulled directly from In re the Marriage of Marcouiller and Quirk, A14-0207 (Minn. Ct. App. Nov. 24, 2014) in which the parties subjected themselves to a full custody evaluation, yielding a recommendation of joint legal and joint physical custody.
But, based in no small part on the emails above, the Court rejected that recommendation, and instead awarded Wife sole physical custody.
In other words, a favorable custody recommendation down the drain, because of poor, written communication. As with most unpublished cases, I’m sure that’s not the whole story, but still a worthwhile lesson even if the facts here are somewhat more nuanced.
(For those of you thinking that Husband should have had this app, you’ll probably want to keep an eye out for my next post on electronic evidence in divorce.)
Seven Habits of Highly Effective Communicators
So as a counter to the seven emails above, I thought I’d offer my own seven texting (or emailing) tips for parents going through custody disputes. By way of a disclaimer, I’ve culled most of these from other (now unremembered) sources over the years, and keep refining them as I go.
1. Keep It Short.
I put this one first, because I really mean it. Messages longer than a few sentences are usually violating one of my other rules, so length can be a useful indication that something is wrong. The more you write, the more likely it is that you’ve written something you oughtn’t.
2. Keep It Polite.
“Please” and “thank you” aren’t just for your kids. A little common courtesy can go along way (if not with your ex, than at least with whatever decision-maker the messages are being shown to). Of course, “please go to hell” is actually worse than the alternative, so don’t ignore Rules 3-7.
3. Keep It on Point.
Written communications should be about your kids. That’s it. Maybe there’s a need to work out some logistics about a pet, or a house you’re still sharing, but otherwise, kids. If every sentence in your email isn’t about the kids, it probably can (and probably should) go. And no, what a terrible parent your ex is doesn’t qualify.
As a rule of thumb, if any portion of your message does any of the following, you’re violating this rule: asks a rhetorical question, blames, demeans, condescends, or, the one that I particularly hate, includes the words “my attorney told me.”
4. Keep It Clean.
This really should go without saying, but it doesn’t. If you wouldn’t send this email to your boss, your kindly grandmother, and Santa Claus, then don’t send it. Your tone should be business-like, profanity should be non-existent, and I can think of almost no reason you would ever attach a picture that wasn’t of your children smiling (you wouldn’t believe some of the pictures I see).
5. Ask yourself “Why am I sending this?”
Some messages just don’t need to be sent. Did you get a long, blamey email from your ex about why you’re responsible for all the misery and suffering in the world? Does that really require a response? Even if some part of the email does, can you respond to the relevant portion and ignore (or sideline) the rest? If you can’t answer, in a single sentence, why you’re sending an email, that’s probably a good indication it should stay in your “draft” folder.
Some things are urgent. Medical issues. Last minute schedule changes. School emergencies. A lot of things aren’t. For all of those things, wait before you hit “send.” When dealing with difficult opposing counsel, attorneys are often told to put your reply letters in a drawer overnight and read them in the morning to get some perspective. The same principle applies here. If you’re really struggling, find someone else to help you gauge your tone.
7. Would a phone call be better?
Despite what my entire generation seems to believe, not every communication needs to be in writing. In fact, some probably shouldn’t be. Helpful though emoji’s are at conveying a certain degree of irreverent irony, written communications generally lose something in the way of tone and tenor that can be helpful when addressing difficult topics. Multifaceted issues with lots of follow-up questions and complicating twists may also be easier to address in one phone call than in 100 text messages.
Some couples aren’t there yet. They need the structure of written communication to keep them on point and to give them time to compose their thoughts. But not every parenting problem can be solved via Snapchat.
So those are my top 7. Feel free to add your own to the comments, or share your own stories of lessons you learned about communicating during a custody dispute.