An interesting day in Wake County Family Court today provided me with insight to share with parents struggling with communication and co-parenting issues. As I was waiting for my case to be heard, the judge presiding made several statements that every parent should digest prior to choosing to litigate a child custody case:
Raising a child is like a ball game. The child is the game and the parents are the fans. To co-parent successfully, parents don’t have to sit next to each other. However they need to be in the same section. When they aren’t in the same section you end up in court.
He then compared court to a restaurant in one of the best analogies I’ve heard in a while, primarily because I absolutely hate this meal:
Court is like eating in a restaurant that only serves liver and onions… and you have to eat it, whether you like it or not.
You may not be a sports fan, and you may or may not like liver and onions, but whether you like it or not, co-parenting is about communication.
Even when you have separated (or especially when you have separated), communication is vital if you share children. So what happens when your ex stops communicating with you? What can you do? Consider the following scenarios:
Scenario #1: Dan and Melissa recently separated and have one young son together. They have an informal custody arrangement but there is no custody order in place yet. Everything was going fine (or fine enough) until last week. Last week, Melissa decided to keep their son without consulting Dan. Moreover, she stopped responding to any of Dan’s calls, texts or emails. Dan is worried sick, panicked and can’t understand why Melissa won’t let him speak to his son. He desperately wants to know what to do to have him back safely in his arms.
Scenario #2: April and Jeff have been separated for some time and share two children. There is a custody order in place granting them joint physical and legal custody. Major medical and educational decisions are supposed to be made jointly. Their daughter needs braces. According to the order, April and Jeff must agree on the procedure, the doctor and how the costs will be split. April has contacted Jeff multiple times to discuss but Jeff will not respond. This is not unusual. Getting him to respond to any of April’s questions is like pulling teeth (pardon the pun). This decision really needs to be made soon.
Both are very different situations but require a similar response from you:
Document Your Communication
Written communication is the best form of communication when there is conflict in a case. It leaves a “paper trail” of evidence. If admitted into evidence, no one can deny what was said in a written communication. A text or email can also show the date and time a message was sent. To preserve a text message as evidence, take a screenshot of the sent text message. Make sure the picture shows who the text is sent to and the date and time it was sent. Sometimes you have to wait until the day after for the phone to show the date it was sent.
In scenario #1, Dan should make sure he is sending a text or email at least once a day asking to speak with his son and exchange custody. In scenario #2, April should make sure her requests to discuss the topic have been documented. Depending on what the custody order says, she should also consider: 1) sending a list of three doctors covered by insurance she believes are appropriate; 2) asking Jeff to pick one within 10 days; 3) letting him know she will take their daughter to the dentist of her choice from that list if she doesn’t hear back from him within that time period; and 4) following up with a receipt of all costs not covered by insurance and a request for his share of the cost.
Plan your communication as if a judge will read it in the future. Do not curse, speak harshly or threaten the other person. You do not need to be overly nice. Instead, aim for calm, resolute and assertive. For instance, in scenario #1, if Melissa has not let Dan see or talk to his son in two days, Dan should consider sending a text like: “Melissa, I was suppose to start my custodial time with our son on Sunday, February 18th. It’s been two days. You haven’t responded to my texts. I haven’t been able to even speak with my son in two days. Please let me know he is okay. Please let me speak with him asap and respond to let me know when we can exchange him.”
Do Not Post on Social Media
It can be tempting to voice your frustration on Facebook, Snapchat, or some other social media platform. DON’T. We encourage you not to use social media when you are having issues with your ex or child. Social media posts can be used as evidence. In extreme cases, you can be charged with cyberstalking for excessive harassing social media posts about the other parent. Anything you say on social media can be potentially read by a judge and it is not uncommon for attorneys to request access to your social media accounts as part of custody litigation. It is important that a judge not see anything that will cause them to be unsympathetic to you and your case.
Try Not Involve Other People
It may be helpful to ask others to find out what is going on with the other person. Sometimes though, it can backfire. You have no control over what the third person says or does. The third person may threaten the other party. Those threats could be linked back to you. If you are going to involve another person make sure you trust he or she will not escalate the conflict.
Speak with an Attorney
In scenario #1, Dan should speak with an attorney as soon as possible. The attorney will be able to help him file a custody action and may be able to negotiate with Melissa. If, in scenario #1, Dan and Melissa already had a custody order in place, the attorney could help Dan file a motion for an order to show cause against Melissa for not obeying a court order. While scenario #2 might not need attorney intervention, there may be other facts and circumstances that require legal advice. For instance, Jeff is not only non-responsive but he also cancels about half of his scheduled custodial time. This might mean it is appropriate for April to file a motion to modify custody.
We understand how frustrating it is to deal with an ex who will not communicate with you. Whatever communication issue you are experiencing today, contact our office to discuss your rights.
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