The quick memory device is: facts, goal, how, actions.
- What are the essential facts?
- What is your goal?
- How do the facts and your goal affect your children?
- Will your actions accomplish your goal?
Whenever you communicate with your spouse, apply the Parenting Mantra. Keep your responses short and sweet. Keep your communications short and to the point. Less is more.
Be “businesslike.” Do not bring in fighting words or even words of reconciliation. Remember, your late night drunk emails can become ammunition for the other side. If you were an evaluator, assuming you are going to be presented with emails, what emails or letters would you rather read?
A communication to your spouse can be effective if it simply says “Thank you for your email about Johnny’s band practice. I like your suggestion: you can pick him up after practice. Please have him at my house no later than 6:30 tonight.”
You have custody of your child. You get an accusatory telephone call from your spouse telling you that she is not going to pay her half of the medical expenses you incurred for your children last week. She also tells you that you are not taking care of their medical needs and therefore she will not pay. You work as an assistant manager at a store; you can’t afford to pay for your spouse’s share of the medical costs. The phone call ends by your spouse telling you that you are not co-parenting effectively and damaging your children.
You are stunned because your spouse is required to pay half of your children’s medical expenses and their medical needs are more than being adequately addressed. Last week you received a phone call accusing you of not paying the health insurance because the medical provider had not filed the claim properly. You make a note of these two incidents in your log as related behavior: first, being accused of damaging children when the issue is simply a matter of finances; second, the logistics of handling health insurance claims. What does a disagreement over medical expenses have to do with parenting your children?
Your first reaction is to tell your spouse that she is clearly insane. You respond in an email without using the Parenting Mantra:
“What planet are you from? We each work and should pay half of their medical expenses. You don’t even go to the medical appointments so how do you know what is happening? You did this while we were married, jumping to these insane conclusions that everybody mentioned. Pay me the money or else. I am not kidding.”
“P.S. You didn’t ‘parent’ while we were married, so how would you know now what it means to be a parent. You’re nuts! I take care of our child’s medical needs. I can take care of our child better than you any day of the week and twice on Sundays. Your lack of integrity is hurting our child more than you know.”
When meeting with the evaluator, you can bet that this email will surface from your spouse to show you are:
Worse, do you really think that this email will help? Let’s analyze the situation using the Parenting Mantra:
Now that you have analyzed this situation using the Parenting Mantra, you write the following email:
“Johnny is being properly cared for by Dr. Jones. You are required to pay one-half of his unreimbursed medical expenses according to the judgment. I paid $600 to Dr. Jones today. Copies of the receipts are attached. Please send $300 by this Friday. Thanks.”
What have you accomplished? First and foremost, you just showed that you are reasonable and not prone to irrationality. More importantly, you did not provoke a fight, something that affects your ability to work together in the future.
How did you accomplish these goals?
If you have received other calls like this before, then you can chart them into a pattern. Evaluators like patterns because past behavior patterns can be an excellent predictor of future behavior. You are painting your appropriate parenting masterpiece by allowing the Parenting Mantra to help you. Let your spouse paint outside the lines.
In a normal conversation, we depend a great deal on nonverbal cues to let us know if we should talk more about a particular topic or change the subject and move on. In an interview with the evaluator, you cannot depend upon nonverbal cues to let you know what you should talk about or what you should cut short. A good evaluator will try to limit nonverbal cues, have a neutral expression, and ask neutral questions while they are gathering information.
This can be frustrating. You have just told the evaluator that your child has revealed to you that the other parent throws him against walls for punishment, and threatens him if he tells anyone. You have tears dripping down your face as you describe a very emotional event for you.
The evaluator doesn’t react, except to blandly say, “How did you react to your child telling you that?” “How did I react?” You think, “Why isn’t the evaluator emotional about my story? Why isn’t the evaluator as emotionally angry as I am about the clear abuse of my child? What kind of unfeeling robot is this evaluator, anyway?”
The lack of emotional response from the evaluator is intentional. You don’t want an evaluator to form an opinion early on, and then shut out further questions. Use the Parenting Mantra to organize your thoughts:
You want the evaluator to have all of the facts before making an opinion. Even the questions that the evaluator asks may not reveal what the evaluator is thinking, particularly in the initial interview. If you are talking about an incident that you think was very important, and you do not get any nonverbal cues, you might be tempted to not give the evaluator the information because the evaluator doesn’t seem interested.
Follow the Mantra. You need to give the important information even if you don’t get nonverbal cues that the evaluator is interested. If the evaluator doesn’t have the information, he or she cannot consider it in forming an opinion.
During the relationship, was there agreement on disciplinary styles? Was one parent more permissive, and reluctant to be the “bad guy” in the eyes of the children? Was one parent more authoritarian and rigid in discipline? How did the disciplinary styles affect your children?
If you believe that the other parent is using a permissive discipline style to entice the children to prefer that parent, talk about that and how it impacts the children. If you believe that the other parent is too harsh of a disciplinarian, and it has an adverse effect on the children, talk about that as well.
Here is another good opportunity to use the Parenting Mantra:
If the other parent disciplines the child inappropriately, with an adverse effect on the children, be prepared to talk about that and why.
If there is a significant difference in discipline styles, talk about how that was handled during the marriage. If you don’t like the discipline style now, but didn’t have any objections to it during the marriage, it’s a little hard to be credible in raising the issue now.
Being prepared is critical for a meeting with an evaluator or for going to court. Your goal is to communicate information to the evaluator in a manner that shows you as a more than capable parent. That information is best delivered by using essential facts in calm, reasoned, and organized fashion.
The Parenting Mantra can be applied here if you are nervous and need preparation on what to say and how to say it to accomplish your goal.
Be prepared to discuss the following with the evaluator:
Most of the above information is not hard to answer. This is your child and your family. You probably know this information off the top of your head. However, if you know generally what the questions are going to be, you will have more of an opportunity to reflect and answer thoughtfully. You won’t be surprised that you are being asked about things you may not have thought about in a while, such as your childhood, and its possible impact on your child.
Finally, think about how you are going to approach all communication during the divorce and evaluation process. There are two contradictory assumptions, but both happen with enough regularity that judges and evaluators make those assumptions. One assumption is that everyone becomes temporarily insane during a divorce, especially a custody evaluation, and you say and do things that you would normally never consider doing. The behavior is out of the ordinary and you should be given some leeway. The other assumption is that you are aware of the seriousness of the custody decision and you should be on your best behavior.
Depending upon the context, both assumptions may be true at different times. There is a great cartoon with these images. Under the first picture, the caption reads, “If the law is against you, argue the facts.” Under the second image, the poster states, “If the facts are against you, argue the law.” The third caption captures the essence of hostile emails: “If the facts and the law are against you, call the other lawyer a schmuck!” Calling your spouse a schmuck, challenging his or her ancestry, or making derogatory remarks, even if you have been wronged, will only work against you. Being considered temporarily insane or acting inappropriately and out of control does not present your parenting in the best light. Instead, follow the Parenting Mantra:
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