The Importance of Boundaries in Co‑Parent Communication

What to do when there is abuse, harassment or threats.

Bianca Schroetlin

Creator of Peaceful CoParenting Messenge‪r

Communication is Essential

After divorce, the family still exists but it looks different. There are now two separate households and the focus is no longer on the marriage but should be solely focused on the children. Communication is the only way co‑parents can align together to best care for, support, and respect their children. Good communication can go a long way at honoring the child’s experience and giving children the best possible chance at surviving the challenges of divorce well.

Boundaries in Communication

Communication challenges between co‑parents are not uncommon. Sometimes ex‑spouses are argumentative and want to continue arguments from years past. Other times, one co‑parent abuses, threatens or harasses the other co‑parent. This is where communication boundaries need to be established. Boundaries are essential to healthy relationships. They tell people in our life how we want to be treated and what we find unacceptable. How are people aware of your boundaries? Through time, what you allow and what you do not allow becomes clear. You may also need to tell someone directly: "you’ve crossed a boundary."

Emotionally healthy people respect your boundaries but those with difficult personalities or toxic behavior will not and can send you into a tailspin with their lack of respect and care. This is why it is essential to set clear boundaries for your own mental health and the happiness of your children.

Co‑parent communication should be:
  • Short (less is more)
  • To the point and business‑like
  • Cordial
  • Firm (may need a deadline date)

Example: "I’d like to take Johnny to a baseball game that’s only happening on Friday night. Can I swap Friday for Saturday so that we are able to go together? Please let me know by Wednesday at 5pm so I have time to buy tickets. Thank you."

What are your boundaries? Chances are you know when they’ve been crossed because it doesn’t feel right or may be downright maddening for you. Don’t ignore those feelings but do something about it and be clear with your co‑parent about your boundaries. In addition, be consistent with your boundaries for the best results.

Communication Provisions

Your parenting plan can include specific provisions related to communication between parents, including but not limited to:
  • Agreement to communicate about issues related to school, health and well-being
  • Agreement to use just one or several communication channels:
  • Agreement to communicate directly with each other on matters concerning the children. Never use the children to relay a message to the other co‑parent.
  • Agreement to use a shared custody log containing information about each parent's time with the child, including details about medical care, injuries or illnesses, diet, education, school, social events, and appointments. You can use a notebook that travels with the child to each parent’s home or a specialized app like Alimentor, which allows each parent to create and share digital records that include notes, photos and PDF attachments.
  • Agreement to use a shared custody calendar containing information about your regular parenting time schedule, holidays, school breaks, vacation plans and any other events included in the parenting plan. You can use a free online shared calendar such as Google calendar, or a dedicated tool like Alimentor, which compares scheduled and actual time, and calculates custodial timeshare.

Documenting Inappropriate Communication

You may need to consider keeping a record of communication if there is a pattern of abusive messages. The documentation can be used in court to prove an allegation of inappropriate communication that is hurtful to your ability to co‑parent well together.

Each co‑parenting relationship is different so consulting with an attorney as to how much communication to collect and which messages to include is a good idea.

How to Set Communication Boundaries

If you’re receiving unwanted abusive messages from your co‑parent:
  • Use only one communication tool that is court admissible and easy to use. You may need to block email and phone calls.
  • Document all communication using just one method.
  • Set boundaries using verbal instruction (i.e. “Please only discuss child related matters in messages to me.”) and/or digital tools such as Peaceful CoParenting Messenge‪r.

  • Limit message length: 50 characters or less.
  • Establish a waiting period between messages to diffuse a heated exchange.
  • Utilize and customize pre‑written messages.
  • Limit co-parents to pre‑written messages that commonly come up between co‑parents.
  • Set the time of day you want to receive messages.
  • Limit the number of messages per day.
  • Generate communication reports for court-admissible use.
  • See when the message was sent and when it was viewed by your co‑parent.

Keep Your Side of the Street Clean

It’s extremely difficult to stay calm and unemotional when you’re on the receiving end of nasty messages from your co‑parent. Keep in mind that you will be documenting your responses as well your co‑parent’s. Try to be a role model of good behavior and treat your co‑parent the way you want to be treated.

Wishing you peace, harmony and rock‑solid boundaries!

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