By Jennifer M. Paine
Every divorced dad with kids, at some point during and after his divorce, will hear his ex-wife harassing him.
Trust me, as a men’s divorce attorney, if it has not happened to you yet, it will. It may be a quibble over school grades, who is to take your son to soccer practice, whether your daughter needs to see a doctor, etc.
It may be her family or friends “just talking” at your child’s next function about your parenting style. It may be a constant stream of phone calls and texts about what needs to happen during your parenting time, who is around during your parenting time, whether the two of you agree on vacation time, and so forth.
For some divorced dads, these are minor annoyances that they can deal with. Send a quick text back to your ex about your child’s plans and remind those family and friends that you, and your child, can hear them talking at that event.
For most divorced dads, however, they snowball and feel like, and often are, harassment that erodes your parenting time.
What can you do? Consult with your divorce attorney and consider these three options to stop your ex from harassing you:
1. Civil Injunction
A civil injunction is the divorce court’s version of a personal protection order. What kinds of conditions you can include in yours is very state-specific, so be sure to consult with your attorney.
In general, civil injunctions require both parents to restrain from disparaging each other, in front of their child or otherwise, but they may also require each parent to refrain from talking to the other or appearing at the other’s home and work except to discuss matters pertaining to their child.
Unlike a personal protection order, however, most police officers will not enforce these orders automatically with the threat of, or actual, arrest if your ex violates the terms.
Rather, you have to file a contempt action in the divorce court. So, if your safety is at risk, you should consider a personal protection order instead.
On the other hand, this also means your ex cannot call the police claiming you violated the order or hold the threat of arrest over your head.
2. Forms of Communication
In all states, your judge can require certain forms of communication between you and your ex.
The goal here is to streamline the process for communication to eliminate the potential for three phones calls, 10 texts, five emails and a call from your in-laws over the span of minutes over something innocuous.
In other words, this is an option you may want to consider if your ex has a habit of barraging you with questions and, intentionally or not, interrupting your parenting time.
If phone calls inevitably lead to a yelling match about who-did-what-when, then texting may be more appropriate (except, of course, for emergencies).
If texting leads to hours spent on your phone defining yourself, then limits on the number of texts, or emails, or an obligation to use a journal (that your child should not see) may be more appropriate.
For particularly difficult exes, software that monitors and saves communications, potentially for the judge’s review, may be best.
3. Parenting Coordinator
There are some exes, though, who will just not comply no matter what your orders say.
They can create an “emergency” out of anything, for example, to justify their phone calls to you when the judge ordered calls only for emergencies. Or they will have friends and family contact you, Facebook message you, or drive by your home instead.
For these particularly difficult exes, sometimes a middle-person to field questions, settle disputes, and arrange parenting time is best.
Depending on your state, these folks are called parenting coordinators, post-judgment GALs, family counselors, etc., and their credentials vary. Fees can be steep, but they are also less expensive then constant post-divorce litigation.
4. The Need For Patience
Most of all, and this will take plenty of practice, learn to keep your patience. More often than not, what looks like harassment in the first few months post-divorce is really your ex’s way of navigating her own issues over your divorce.
She, as do you during her parenting time, has lost control over your most important assets – your children – and learning how to cope takes time for both of you.
If the harassment continues, though, know that you do have options, and consult with your attorney to determine which are best for you.
Cordell & Cordell:
Jennifer M. Paine is a Michigan Divorce Lawyer with Cordell & Cordell. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims.
Ms. Paine received her Bachelor of Arts in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.