Families Change Guide to Separation & Divorce

3.16 - Communication Strategies

3.16 - Communication Strategies

When you and your former partner separate you both will need to make many decisions about how to handle your finances.   You will need to communicate effectively and, in some instances, you may need to get help to resolve difficult issues.

Often, the source of post-separation conflict is ineffective communication.  If you can learn to relate to your former partner in a business-like manner, it is likely you will be able to negotiate informally to resolve financial issues.  

This section of the course examines some of the financial issues that come up and considers positive communication strategies. Many of the examples in the next few sections focus on parents communicating about expenses relating to their children. However, the same strategies and lessons can be used by all former partners to help communicate more effectively with each other about difficult issues.

Agreements or orders that address child support and spousal or partner support generally refer to ongoing financial responsibilities. It is important to have any agreement or order about support and that you understand the details.

  • Is there a Child Support Order?
  • Does it include  extraordinary expenses?
  • Does it speak generally about  extraordinary expenses, or is it specific? Is one of you responsible for medical/dental insurance plan payments for the children?
  • Is there a spousal or domestic partner support order?

If you have negotiated an agreement or order that addresses support it is important that you respect the terms of the agreement or order because it is a legal contract and can be enforced.

If you are the one paying child support (payor), you should prioritize paying the support in a timely manner. It should have the same level of importance as paying your mortgage or rent. The parent receiving the support for the child or children is counting on that money to pay the mortgage or rent, and other bills, to support the child.

When former partners have children together, beyond a support agreement or order they have to communicate  about the extra expenses (those not covered in the agreement or order) and the unexpected expenses (those that are not planned) related to their child’s activities.

Let’s look at a scenario and consider the response.

Mom: Kyle has a birthday party to go to on Saturday from 4:00 to 6:00 o’clock. You will need to take him to buy a birthday present.

Dad: I pay you child support. You should buy the birthday presents.

This communication about additional expenses might have been much more effective if done in a timely manner with consideration for each parent’s circumstances.

Consider this: in the scenario we just described, what if Mom just found out about the party and called Dad immediately?  In this case, an effective communication strategy might be for her to let Dad know that she was also surprised, that she recognizes it might be hard for Dad to rearrange plans for the weekend, come up with the money, and buy the present all on his own.  She could ask him to help work out a plan so that Kyle can go to the party and even suggest ways for them to share the unexpected expense and travel to and from the party.

Unless a protective order prohibits or limits it, there are many options for communicating with your former partner.  You can communicate in person, on the phone, by letter, by fax, by email or by text message.  Each may be appropriate for the situation but be sure to consider how your former partner may view the method of communication especially if it is about a large output of financial resources.  Make sure to prepare what you are going to say ahead of time. 

Research has shown that involving the other parent in the decision-making process increases their willingness to contribute to unexpected expenses. It is also important to remember that a request for money generally  provokes an emotional response.

When someone is approached unexpectedly about contributing money it is easy to go on the defensive. The parent being asked may feel they have already paid their child support and shouldn’t have to contribute anything more.

The reality is that money is personal, and the parent being asked may not want to reveal their financial situation. If there isn’t extra money to contribute, the responding parent has the choice of either turning down the request, or offering to help out at the expense of other bills.

There are strategies that promote cooperative communication between former partners,especially in regard to expenses.

Let’s look at three video scenarios.