How Should I Communicate With My Spouse During Divorce Proceedings?
A common question we are asked is what is the best method of communicating with your spouse or your ex while you are in the middle of a divorce, a paternity action, or a modification. The answer is: it depends. There are pros and cons of various mediums of communication and we will address them here.
- U.S. Mail
Pros: You may tell your spouse or ex anything you need without having to speak to them. This method may be preferred when there is abuse or domestic violence. Also, there are certain things that must be sent to your ex via U.S. Mail. A perfect example of this is a relocation letter–which must be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested.
Cons: There is a delay. It may take several days for your spouse or ex to receive the letter, and if they are responding to you by the same medium, several more days for you to receive their reply. Consider also that anything you write in a letter to your spouse or ex may be introduced in evidence in your case, so be sure not to write anything you wouldn’t want a judge to read.
Pros: You may tell your spouse or ex anything you need without having to speak to them. This method also may be preferred when there is abuse or domestic violence. You can also keep an electronic record of everything that you send your spouse or ex so that there is no dispute over what you said to them and when you said it. If your spouse or ex responds by this medium, you can also keep a record of their emails for your own file and if they say anything damaging, you can use it as evidence in your own case. Another good characteristic of email is that it is instantaneous.
Cons: It is easy to get preoccupied with email and feel the need to constantly check your email for a reply. It is also common for people to hit the “send" button on an email before they have fully calmed down, and often write emails that will be perceived poorly by a judge or a Guardian ad litem. It is also easy to convey the wrong message through email, and sometimes it creates misunderstandings. It is important that if you are sending an email, that you read it several times to think about how it sounds and if it is setting the correct tone. We also encourage our clients to let another adult read over the email, such as a parent, sibling, or second spouse, and ask them their opinion of the email. Keep in mind that email may be used as evidence against you, so choose your words carefully.
Pros: You can have an ongoing dialogue with your spouse or ex and receive immediate feedback from them. There is also less chance of a “misunderstanding" that might otherwise arise through email or letters.
Cons: If you have a quick temper or your spouse or ex really knows how to push your buttons, the telephone may not be the best way to communicate. Keep in mind that your spouse or ex may be tape recording your telephone conversation and could use it against you in trial if you make any admissions or say anything that could hurt your case. With telephone calls, unlike email and letters, there is no paper trail, and it is difficult to prove what you said to your spouse/ex and what they said to you, if it is something important to your case.
- Text Message
Pros: It is a quick and easy way to send an important message to your spouse or ex that you know they will receive immediately. You do not have to actually speak to your spouse or ex.
Cons: You are limited to how much you can put in a text message, so don’t send texts for issues that require a long discussion. It is easy to send off a text message before you calm down, so only say things in text messages that you would be embarrassed for a judge to see. It is also somewhat difficult for attorneys to obtain copies of the text messages sent and received because phone companies do not usually keep a record of the content of text messages, only the numbers that texts were send and received from. Therefore, it may be difficult to obtain a copy of the text messages that you have send your spouse/ex and he or she has sent you if it is something that you need to use in evidence at trial. Also, for some very important conversations, such as an emergency happening to the child, you will look somewhat callous if you only notify the other person by text message instead of actually calling them.
- In Person
Pros: An easy way to have dialogue with your spouse or ex, and if you can reach an agreement, you can write it down on paper and sign it.
Cons: It may be dangerous if you are a domestic violence victim. Also if there is an order of protection in place, you may be prohibited from communicating via this medium. It may be difficult emotionally to speak face to face with your spouse or ex. It is also difficult to prove what you said or your spouse/ex said to you in a face to face conversation. Unlike email, which leaves a paper trail, if you spouse/ex denies that you made certain statements to him or her, it may become a he-said/she-said fight, where the judge doesn’t know who to believe. Also keep in mind that your spouse or ex may be tape recording your conversation, so choose your words carefully.
If you choose to speak in person, it’s important to meet in a neutral, public place and to avoid angry or emotional confrontations. It may also help to have another person there with you.
- Through Your Attorney
Pros: You can leave the dirty work of speaking to your spouse or ex to your attorney and avoid having to personally speak to him or her. Also, sometimes when discussions are held between attorneys, your spouse or ex’s attorney may be more likely to convince him or her that he or she is behaving unreasonably. Sometimes discussions between attorneys are more likely to broker a settlement agreement than direct discussions between the parties themselves.
Cons: It can quickly become expensive. Don’t ask your lawyer to communicate with your spouse or ex about trivial matters. It also helps to keep costs down if you prepare a list for your attorney of all the items that you need addressed to your spouse or ex, to reduce the amount of times your attorney needs to communicate with your spouse or ex’s attorney.
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