A recent article in The Huffington Post summarized a University of Missouri study that analyzed the way divorced parents use technology to facilitate (or hinder) their co-parenting arrangements. According to the study, parents with effective communication used technology to improve parent-parent communication as well as parent-child access, while parents with ineffective communication used technology to frustrate both their relationship with the other parent and the other parent's relationship with the children. Establishing positive communication practices between spouses not only maintains a level of civility between the parents; it also provides a more pleasant environment for the children. Whether a couple engaged in litigation, mediation, or collaborative methods in obtaining their divorce, limiting post-divorce conflict between parents is imperative to helping children adjust.
Below are some tips for using communication technology effectively as a tool to foster positive and successful co-parenting arrangements and limit conflict:
• E-mail: E-mail can be a useful way for divorced parents to communicate with each other. Risks inherent in telephone communication are largely absent in e-mail communication: telephone conversations can be impulsive and rash, and since they are generally not recorded, a parent may feel entitled to make any manner of accusation toward his or her ex. Parents can also use the telephone to avoid communication, by ignoring phone calls and voice messages. By contrast, e-mail affords a parent with the ability to express himself or herself, then edit the message to ensure that only a calm, rational tone is used. E-mail also provides a communication trail, which makes it more likely that a parent will limit his or her hostility.
• Text Messages: The idea behind using text messages to communicate is similar to that of e-mail. Text messaging is more immediate, but still allows each parent to edit their message for the appropriate tone, and creates a communication trail.
• Calendar Sharing: With Google calendars or iCloud, parents can share calendars with each other. This can ensure that each parent has access to the children's academic, extra-curricular, and social activities. Shared calendars can also provide a method by which parents can keep tabs on parenting and vacation schedules, including travel details and changes in the usual parenting plan. Creating a shared calendar thus minimizes the likelihood that a parent will miss an important event in the children's lives, while mitigating the interaction between parents regarding their own schedules and those of the children.
• Online Co-Parenting Software: In the event that parents prefer help with limiting conflict in multiple areas, including parenting schedules and child support payments, co-parenting software is an option. The software, which has gained popularity over the past year or so, provides calendars, expense logs, message boards, and child records (medical, academic, etc.). These features allow parents to keep track of schedules and expenses, and to communicate with one another directly. Examples of available software are Our Family Wizard and ShareKids.
As noted in a recent article in the New York Times, communication technology is becoming popular not only with divorced parents, but in the courtroom and amongst lawyers as well. According to the article, settlement agreements often include provisions for non-custodial parents to Skype with their children, and at least one judge has ordered a couple to use Our Family Wizard to avoid disagreements.
Each of the above-mentioned tools can build a successful co-parenting environment for parents and children. As the University of Missouri study concluded, parents who had good relationships effectively used these tools to maintain contact with their ex-spouses and to facilitate the children's transition between parents. As with all aspects of divorce, the children's best interests should be paramount and, to the extent that communication technologies can advance this goal, they should be widely considered.