For many couples, a breakdown in communication is what leads to the end of their marriage or relationship. For divorcing or separating parents, the end of their romantic partnership is not the end of the need to communicate with one another. In fact, it is just the opposite. Their new relationship is that of co-parents. Communicating with your child’s other parent is essential to your child’s well-being, and your ability to do so is one of the “best interests” factors Florida courts consider in custody determinations.
Florida Statutes Section 61.13(3)(l) refers to “the demonstrated capacity of each parent to communicate with and keep the other parent informed of issues and activities regarding the minor child, and the willingness of each parent to adopt a unified front on all major issues when dealing with the child.” In other words, can the parents put aside their own issues to communicate effectively with each other for the sake of their child?
HOW FLORIDA COURTS LOOK AT PARENTAL COMMUNICATION
As with the other “best interests” factors, courts consider parents’ ability to communicate in context with other aspects of their parenting. For instance, the ability of one parent to encourage and facilitate a relationship with the other is connected to the parents’ ability to communicate and cooperate with one another for their child’s needs.
There is communication—and then there is appropriate, effective communication. Calling or texting your child’s other parent twenty times a day is certainly communicating, but not in a way that is likely to find favor with the court. Parents need to be able to reach an agreement about how and when they will communicate, and need to be able to honor that agreement by communicating in an appropriate and civil way.
For many parents, technology has made life easier in that regard. Where once you would have to call the other parent (perhaps an uncomfortable or unpleasant experience), now you can agree to text or email one another. Communicating in writing can be less gut-churning than having to hear your ex’s voice, and it also provides a record of what was said, when, and by whom.
The technology of co-parenting has evolved even further in recent years, with apps and websites like Our Family Wizard available to make co-parenting communication easier. These sites allow you to share calendars, message boards, expense logs and journals with one another, as well as to make payments and upload pictures. Many such sites allow you to share your communications with your lawyers or other professionals, and some sites do not allow messages to be altered or deleted once sent. The result is that parents can’t fudge about what was said, or when; it’s all time-stamped right there on the screen. The knowledge that lawyers and judges may see what was said tends to help parents keep things more civil and to live up to their agreement to communicate about the child’s schooling, health, activities, and other issues.
Communication in the context of this best interest factor also refers to your willingness to work together and compromise as needed.
WHEN COMMUNICATION BETWEEN PARENTS IS COMPLICATED
Under some circumstances, frequent and open communication between parents is not only not helpful, it is actually harmful—or forbidden. For instance, if there is a history of domestic violence between partners, one party may have an order in place limiting the abuser’s ability to communicate with the victim. In such cases, obviously, a victim of domestic violence will not be penalized in a custody case for not encouraging communication from an abuser.
In cases involving domestic violence, to the extent an abuser is entitled to communications about the child, it may be best to communicate through a website or app such as those described above, or through a neutral third party (not the child) to avoid problems.
Communicating with an ex, even when domestic violence was not part of your past, can be stressful. When you must communicate, bear in mind the reason for doing so: your child. Your communications with your ex, whether face-to-face, in writing, by phone, or through a website or app should all be calculated to serve your child’s well-being. If you have questions about the Florida “best interests’ factors, or other aspects of custody (time-sharing and parental responsibility), please contact Miami family lawyer Antonio Jimenez.