Communicating during divorce can be difficult for parties because– while the individual parties frequently feel the need to be heard (by their spouse, by their attorney, by the court, etc), they frequently fail to consider how their communication is being perceived, and they often fail to listen or understand.
The following list of tips are not part of Oregon law, but they are just some good principles for communicating during divorce:
Before communicating through any medium (in-person, phone, email, note, text message, letter, etc), consider what you are trying to accomplish. Are you seeking information?A response? Or are you trying to convey information? Depending on the purpose of your communication, you may want to to choose one medium over another.
- In-person communication is the most natural and informal, but there is no record of what was discussed or what was agreed to (if there is later a dispute as to what was said or whether an agreement was reached). By comparison, consider text messages. If you and your spouse have a history of verbal or physical abuse, avoid in-person communication. This is primarily for safety of the party that’s been abused, but it should also be a consideration for a party concerned about a false claim of verbal or physical abuse.
- Telephone communication is good for allowing a natural and dynamic dialog to take place between parties, but it can be limiting if one party is more dominant or controlling. Keep in mind that disputes may arise as to what was said if the call was not documented. Within Oregon, it’s legal to record a phone call if one party to the call is aware the call is being recorded. Notification of all persons on the call is not required. This means that you can record a phone call in Oregon (both parties being in Oregon) in order to document what was said. However also keep in mind that you may be recorded without your knowledge by the other party.
- Text messages have become a very popular form of communication lately. The good news is that text messages are often free to send and receive, they are very convenient if you carry a cellular phone daily, and they are almost instant. However, the bad news is that they are often so limited in length (on some phones) that it’s quite easy to come across terse or to be misunderstood. Additionally, there’s not enough space to fully discuss issues, misunderstandings can easily arise. Another concern for text messages is that they can be difficult to product for hearings or trials in court. They need to be printed in chronological order one at a time in order to make sense of the conversation.
- Letters or notes are becoming a rare form of communication. If legible, dated, and signed, they are an excellent form of communication. However, if originals are lost or intentionally destroyed by a party during litigation, they can be disputed.
- Emails are perhaps the best form of communication during divorce case for the following reasons: (1) they can be written, edited, re-written, and re-edited all before sending them, (2) it’s clearly documented who said what and when, and (3) communication in writing can often lower the emotional intensity that might prevent productive communication during a phone call or in-person meeting. If you are going to communicate via email, here are a couple suggestions: (1) Try to write as though you’re writing an actual letter which can stand on it’s own without reference to other forms of communication. For example, an unsigned email that simply says, “Sounds good”is going to create unnecessary confusion later. Whoever is reading it will need to look at what the sender was replying to, and there may be confusion as to whether the responder was agreeing with everything, some things, or the last thing said. (2) Pretend that your emails are going to be published online or placed on the front page of the New York Times. This will prevent you from using four-letter words, or saying things that are likely inappropriate. There is also some seriousness to this analogy: With the introduction of e-court into the Oregon court system, far more divorce materials will be making their way online for viewing by the general public. Consider carefully how much detail you want to go into– in writing– with the person on the other side of the divorce perhaps no longer being someone that you trust, and in fact looking to use things you say against you. (3) Finally, stay organized. Have mercy on the poor individual that will need to read your emails in the future if the emails come in as evidence about a particular issue. Don’t be all over the place, but rather try to cluster your information or questions in a sensible and organized fashion. If you ask a question in an email and the recipient doesn’t answer the question in a future response, send another email reminding the recipient to respond or provide some information as to why they are not answering the question.
Whatever your form of communication with your spouse during or after a divorce, the most important rules would be: (1) Consider the reason you are communicating in the first place and then decide on a form or method for the communication, (2) Decide whether or not the communication or contents of the communication will be disputed later, and (3) Make sure to chose a form or method of communication that can be produced in a hearing or in trial if there’s a dispute about the communication. Lastly, above all else: Be cordial in your communications if at all possible and keep in mind it’s likely that someone will be reading (perhaps publicly publishing) some of your communications as part of the divorce case.