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How to Prevent a Family Law Emergency

There is nothing quite like getting a phone call from a client at four o’clock on a Friday, with a visitation issue that has to be dealt with before the weekend. I know that my clients have tried to work this issue out with the other parent before calling me, but in almost every situation, if the parties had started talking about the issue earlier in the week, it would not have turned into a four o’clock problem. You know that saying about the five P’s — Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

If you are co-parenting a child or children, start a process where you email the other parent regularly.
1. Send an email setting out the children’s upcoming events, and what you believe the parenting schedule for the week should be. If there is an upcoming holiday, start the conversation about that holiday’s parenting time early. You can also include concerns you have about the child and copies of receipts that you need to be reimbursed for in the same email.
2. If you receive one of these emails, take time to really think through the issues and questions asked. Don’t fire off an answer before you check your schedule, the Parenting Plan, or whatever necessary resource.
3. BE RESPECTFUL in your communication with the other parent. I know I need to do another post on this but be brief and business-like in your email. Use the same language and care with the email as you do when emailing your boss or your most important customer. And, most importantly, delay sending an email when you feel emotional or upset. Take a few hours (or a day, if needed) to revisit the email before sending it to make sure your communication is something you wouldn’t mind a judge reading.

You may also want to think about getting a shared calendar with the other parent or using the calendar options available to you already. I did some research on shared calendars recently, and the regular digital calendar you already use is probably your best resource Did you know you can send an invitation to another person for events you set on your calendar on your phone? When you set an appointment for your child on your calendar, check and see if you can send an invitation to the other parent to the event that way everyone has the same information at the same time.

In Gwinnett County, we have an Advanced Co-Parenting Course available to everyone. It is also something that parties in some cases get ordered to take. This course is a small group counseling session where you talk about your communication problems with the other parent, and the counselor advises you on how to make things better. The Advanced Co-Parenting Course recommends regular communication with the other parent in a calm and reasoned way. This class is a great resource for learning the best way to communicate with the other parent (even when they won’t communicate with you).

So, the simple answer really is to communicate respectfully and regularly with the other parent. Hopefully, it will prevent future problems.

Moving On: How to Communicate with a Difficult EX

If I had to guess, you and your Ex probably have a difficult time communicating. And these communication issues were a problem well before the end of your relationship. But now you’ve split up, and you still have to communicate with your Ex, at least until the youngest turns 18. This is hard and frustrating.

As an attorney, I have often had to communicate about serious issues and decisions with people that I don’t necessarily get along with or communicate well with. Over time, I have learned some invaluable tools for effectively communicating with people who are “difficult.” Use my tools to more effectively communicate with your Ex:

1. Communicate only in writing. If you are dealing with a “difficult” person, you need to start communicating only in writing. Even if you have a phone conversation or in-person talk, you need to follow up with an email or text memorializing the discussion to make sure everything is in writing. They will forget what they’ve agreed to do, and this way, you control the contract.

2. It’s business, baby. Treat communications with your Ex like you treat communications with your boss or your customers. Make sure you check your tone and leave emotions or emotional statements out of it. Instead of using accusatory statements such as “I can’t believe you would let our child watch a PG-13 movie,” use questions such as “[insert child’s name] came home and said he watched a PG-13 movie at your house. Can we discuss this?” If you need a guide for what is appropriate, before hitting send, imagine the judge reading your correspondence out loud, in front of whoever happens to be in the courtroom. If you would cringe if it was read out loud or if it makes you sound bad, revise your communication until it’s courtroom-ready.

3. Keep it short. You want to get your point across using as few words as possible. If your communication is paragraphs long, it is inappropriate (and the judge is not going to waste their time reading paragraphs of your correspondence without judging you). Long communications tend to have too much detail and emotion with a few facts sprinkled in. Try to make it a competition with yourself to write as little as possible, while still getting your point across.

4. Wait and edit. Because we live with technology that instantly delivers other people’s messages, we often feel that we need to immediately respond as soon as we receive communication. This is especially the case when we receive a communication that makes us emotional; we tend to fire back a response immediately, while we are still caught up in the emotion. Wait to send a response. Generally, a response within 48 hours is reasonable, unless the request is time sensitive. Use that 48 hours to draft your response, sleep on it, and edit the emotions (curse words, accusations, extra detail, and information) out of your response (review tips 2 and 3 for editing help). Put all of the stuff that you really

want to say in the initial draft to get it out of your system, then edit until it is as short as possible and professional.

5. Document using screenshots. When you go to court, you have to use evidence to prove your case. Your communications with your Ex are evidence to prove your case in court and are almost always admissible at a hearing in Georgia. You want to make sure to save relevant “problem” communications with your Ex in an organized fashion so that you can send them to your attorney if you need them for litigation. Screenshots of text or e-mail communications work well; however, you need to make sure that you haven’t saved your Ex under “Asshole” or “Baby Mama” because that probably won’t go over well with the judge. Document storage sites such as Dropbox and Google Drive can help you keep all screenshots safely organized so that you can instantly send them to your attorney if needed. Save all screenshots using dates to help your attorney create a timeline. You should make sure your name and contact information and your Ex’s name and contact information are clearly visible in the screenshot. It’s also important that the date and time are clearly visible in the screenshot, and there are no gaps in time or conversation in the screenshot conversations you capture.

Hopefully, these tips will help you co-parent more effectively with a “difficult” Ex. If you want tailored advice on how to communicate more effectively with your Ex, please schedule a consultation.