Family Law

Tips on Communicating With Your Spouse During a Divorce

By Joseph Pandolfi, Retired Judge
Learn the ground rules of communicating with your spouse.

Why It’s Important to Communicate With Each Other

Unless there’s a compelling reason to communicate with your spouse through your attorney, you might find it more beneficial to correspond with each other directly. There are a number of reasons for this.

If there were ever a situation where the expression “time is money” applies, it’s in a divorce. Obviously, you hire divorce lawyers for their expertise in helping you navigate the divorce process. But all too often, people needlessly use their attorneys as messengers. If your lawyer has to contact your spouse’s lawyer to resolve every minor issue, such as who’s picking up your child from soccer practice, that’s going to turn into substantial money coming out of your pocket.

Additionally, a spouse may view even the simplest communication as threatening or adversarial, if it comes from your attorney’s office. That negative context can turn a harmless request into a tug-of-war.

When you don’t speak directly with your spouse, you also run the risk of a communication being lost in translation. This is particularly true if it goes through a friend or family member who is hostile toward your soon-to-be ex. By the time the message makes its way to your spouse, its tenor—or even its substance—may be different from what you intended.

Finally, if you have children—particularly young ones—you and your spouse are going to be interacting for quite some time after your divorce is over. The ability to speak with each other will provide a sense of security and stability for the children, which they will need, considering the emotional impact the divorce will likely have on them.

Practical Advice for Communicating During Divorce

Unfortunately, divorces are frequently tinged with some degree of bitterness. However, using your divorce as a vehicle for channeling your ire will have consequences. Expect additional legal fees, as well as a greater emotional toll on you and everyone else involved, including your children.

There can also be legal implications to this behavior. Virtually anything you say or do relating to your divorce is subject to being brought up in court. Through a process known as “discovery,” lawyers can request items such as letters, emails, and texts, as well as compel evidence of phone conversations and social media posts. This applies to your communications with anyone other than your lawyer, not just between you and your spouse.

Everyone needs to vent a little, especially during a divorce. But there’s no reason to splash vitriol all over social media. And certainly never suggest anything illegal or immoral, even in jest. This could devastate your case. Remember also that constantly bad-mouthing your spouse might sour a judge’s perception of you. That could seep into a decision regarding your finances and, more importantly, any determinations regarding your relationship with your children, such as custody and visitation (parenting time) rights.

Some of the ways you can steer clear of communication pitfalls are:

  • Don’t communicate when you’re very upset. Wait until you’re calm and think about the potential consequences of what you plan to say.
  • Resist the urge to immediately respond every time you hear from your spouse. And if the correspondence you receive is trivial, consider not replying at all. You don’t need more aggravation.
  • Try setting parameters relating to communications. For example, let your spouse know up front that, barring a real emergency, you’ll respond to important requests when you’re reasonably able to, whether it be to a phone call, email, or text. Also think about establishing a daily cut-off time for correspondence.
  • Give some thought to avoiding social media while your divorce is ongoing. At the very least, don’t post anything that relates to your divorce or your social life. A photo of you on a date may seem innocuous enough to you, but if your spouse sees it, it could trigger a mean-spirited reaction and possibly delay resolving your case.
  • When speaking with your spouse, do your best to keep your tone cordial, or at the very least, civil. Shouting, or sounding condescending or demeaning, only invites hostility. How you say something can sometimes be as important as what you say.

Communicating Through Your Attorney

There are times when a spouse is so antagonistic that direct communication is, for all intents and purposes, impossible. If that happens, you have no alternative but to correspond either only in writing or exclusively through your attorney. (Note that if your spouse unilaterally and consistently causes unnecessary problems during the divorce, you can normally request that the court order your spouse to contribute toward your attorneys’ fees.)

Another scenario in which you’ll correspond through your attorney is where there’s a restraining order in place, prohibiting all contact. Typically these orders result from a domestic violence complaint. It’s crucial that you comply with the terms of the order. Violating it could result in a fine and even incarceration.

A Word About Recording Conversations

During the course of your divorce, you may be tempted to record a conversation between you and your spouse without your spouse's knowledge or consent. Tread very carefully here. There are federal and state laws that control this. So be sure to speak with your lawyer before recording a conversation.

The path to effectively communicating with a spouse during the divorce process can be challenging at times. For guidance, consult with a reputable and knowledgeable divorce lawyer.

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