Caution: Don’t Text While Divorcing in New York

When relationships break down, talking can be challenging, and sometimes it feels impossible to achieve anything.  Divorce creates such intense emotions it’s no wonder that couples end up using electronic communication such as emails and text messages to make contact.

Text messages are great for everyday life. They’re a quick way to get a fast response so you can get on with your day.  But texting is not the best way to communicate while divorcing and can create more problems than they solve.  All too often, an innocent question is read as an accusation and before you know it, you’re fighting.

Why is texting while divorcing wrong?

The problem with texts and emails is that the other person can’t tell what you were thinking when you wrote it.

  • You can’t convey your intention so a question can sound like a demand.
  • Texts are open to misinterpretation and misunderstandings can spiral out of control, fast.
  • The other person can’t hear your tone of voice so they might assume you are angry when you are not.
  • There’s no context to the message so the other person jumps to inaccurate conclusions.
  • You can’t explain the circumstances unless you write an essay so you leave out information the other person thinks is important.

We’ve all had an email or text from a friend or co-worker that seemed harsh, only to find out later the writer was in a hurry or left the caps-lock on by accident! You probably laughed about it with them afterward.

If you get a message like that while divorcing, you won’t go the extra mile to check if they were too short on time to write a full sentence.  You only have to look at social media to see how one tweet or status update can lead to unintended consequences and the whole situation erupts.  For that reason, talking face to face or on the phone is the best way to communicate while divorcing.  

Of course, who has time to pick up the phone for every single question or to arrange logistics with the children?  Sending a text message can be more practical.  And for some divorcing couples, the relationship breakdown is so acrimonious that they can’t speak directly at all anymore so texting is the only way to communicate.

What is the best way to use text for communicating?

If you can’t avoid text messages then these are my four golden rules:

  1. If you need to ask a question make it easy to answer
  2. Keep messages brief and to the point
  3. Make your text factual and avoid emotional topics
  4. Be courteous

Making it easy to answer

An example of an easy-to-answer question is: ‘What time are you picking up our daughter?’  

What you should not do is text a list of questions like, ‘Why haven’t you told me what time you’re picking up our daughter and why haven’t you returned her sweater from last time?  Also, why is there a hole in her favorite t-shirt?’

These questions are not easily answered and it could be seen as if you’re accusing somebody of something.

Keep texts brief and to the point

The goal of your message is for someone to answer your question and be done.  You have your answer and you can move on too.  If you need to give extra information then do so but don’t end up down a rabbit hole of irrelevant details.  It reduces the need for back-and-forth texts to get the complete picture.  

So for example:

‘Hi Bob, our daughter’s suitcase is packed and ready by the front door.  She has enough clean clothes for the weekend (and spares!) and her medication is in the front pocket that she needs to take 3 times a day.  I’ve packed a copy of the instructions the doctor gave me.  Have a great weekend.’

This message is informative and to the point.  You haven’t dictated what your daughter is to wear each day and you have given her other parent the important information they need.

Be factual and avoid emotional topics

There are going to be times when it is tempting to fire off an angry or emotional text message, but you absolutely should not do that.  However, it’s okay to be firm with each other if somebody doesn’t react or respond to your text in the way you expected.  Then you can say, ‘I’m not going to talk to you by text message.  We have to pick up the phone.’

Don’t leap to conclusions and assume the worst about the other person straight away.  They may not have read this post and know what they should and shouldn’t be doing.  If communicating by text is causing you issues then now is a good time to share my golden rules and talk more constructively so you both get what you need from the communication.

Be courteous

This is a simple rule but it can be hard to apply when you are divorcing.  It means sending the kind of text message that you would appreciate receiving and being kind, even if you’re not feeling it.  It will make communicating easier, less stressful, and more productive.

Talking on the phone or face to face will always be better than text and email while divorcing because it reduces the possibility of misunderstandings that can end in an argument.  But if you follow my rules and keep texting to a minimum, it is possible to keep communication effective and productive.