Communication with a high-conflict ex can be tricky business. I like to call it verbal judo…except it is almost never verbal. Follow my steps below to get a black belt in verbal judo, so that your communication will actually help you collect the evidence needed to win your custody battle.
Step 1: Only respond to questions about child or property logistics
Your ex will send you reams of texts and emails. Sometimes full essays! There will be all sorts of accusations and narratives about you. These do not warrant a response. Let me be clear here: do not get into it with them. If you feel you must respond or else they escalate – please use one of Tina Swithin’s canned responses.
Highlight or underline any specific questions about the children. Answer these queries directly below the question using bold red text. Use as few words as possible to answer. Be polite, informative and forthright with the information.
Step 2: Anticipation accusations of alienation
The playbook for a high conflict ex includes:
- behaving like a jerk so the kids don’t want to spend time with him/her
- blaming you for their terrible relationship with the kids
- accusing you of alienating the children from them
- never being accountable for the poor relationship with their kids
Now that we know the playbook, which equates to estrangement, not alienation, we can communicate in a way to mitigate any alienation claims. Realize that they will still accuse you of being an alienating parent, but strategic communication means a professional or judge would not find this to be the truth.
That means going out of your way to facilitate parenting opportunities and including your high-conflict ex in all decisions. Ask for their opinion. Report back promptly after your child’s medical visit. Keep the written communication succinct and direct in short factual sentences.
Avery went to the dentist on Friday. Everything looks fine. The next visit is on November 3 at 10 am.
Step 3: Set written traps
This is where you get black belt status and one of my favourite tools. I love to send a written communication to the ex where s/he will either:
- be implicated for his/her bad behaviour
- any answer is a win
Here is an example of how to implicate your ex for bad behaviour:
Jonah came home and told me he went to see a restricted movie. Did you know about this?
Here is an example where either answer is a win:
Jonah has a dentist appointment during your parenting time next week. Please let me know if you are available to take him.
Either answer is good because a “yes” saves you time, and a “no” is useful if you are trying to establish that you are the primary parent.
Here is an even better example:
Please indicate your willingness for Carly to receive therapy with Dr. _________.
A yes is good because Carly will get her needed therapy and a no is useful to build your case that your ex is an obstructive parent and cannot be relied upon for child-centred decision making.
Get it? Now go practice. Pause before sending and make sure you follow the rules of verbal judo.