High Conflict Coparent and Phone/FaceTime Calls

Posted on Jun 24, 2024 by Katie Carter

 

As a mom who is new to coparenting, it’s only natural to want to connect with your kids – and make sure they’re okay – during their parenting time with their dad. And, these days, connecting is easier than ever, too, because cell phones and FaceTime technology make it possible for you to check in from pretty much anywhere.

It used to be, in the olden days, that coparents had to provide telephone and contact information for when they traveled.  It makes me laugh a little now when I see that same old language in new agreements; these days, the contact number stays the same because everyone has a cell phone.  Even if your family travels or has family living internationally, cell phones can be carried and easily used.

Its super easy to get in touch and, where appropriate, to stay in touch.  And, of course, you want to!  Even if they’re young and don’t really talk on the phone all that well, you want to see them, check in with them, tell them you love them.  It’s natural.

But with a high conflict coparent, establishing regular phone or FaceTime contact may not be appropriate or desirable.

But, wait – he’s high conflict!  I’m worried about my kids, so I want to talk to them and see them MORE than I would if I felt comfortable about my coparent’s abilities.

I get it.  With an abusive, high conflict, or otherwise obnoxious coparent, especially one who really didn’t take on a lot of the parenting responsibilities before your split, it’s only natural to want to check in.  After all, the kids are going through a major life transition and you want to be certain that they’re doing okay and that their basic needs are met.

It totally makes sense, but hear me out.

In an abusive, high conflict, or otherwise difficult coparenting relationship, establishing routine communication actually gives dad a window into your life and an ability to continue to manipulate the kids while you watch helplessly.

Phone calls – and especially video calls – can be tough.  Though most courts want to make sure that these calls happen without the other parent’s interference, a high conflict coparent is going to find ways to make it difficult.  Whether he’s listening in – “facilitating” the call – or whether he has stepped away so that the kids won’t be able to manage it – and thereby depriving you of the call anyway – he’s going to find a way to twist things to his advantage.

Not only that, but if you video chat, he’s going to have a window into your home – or wherever you happen to be.  You can bet that he’s going to be taking notes and documenting whatever he sees, especially if he doesn’t like it, so that he can twist it, manipulate it, and use it against you later.

Then, on your parenting time, he can use his calls with you to be difficult, too – whether he guilt traps or otherwise manipulates the kids or makes it difficult for you to complete the calls (and then blames you for them not happening).  I’ve had dads tell their kids to say goodnight to pets and stuffed animals and other things at his house and then mom has to deal with upset, dysregulated kids – which takes even more time away from the time she could otherwise spend parenting and generally enjoying her children.

In a lot of these cases, even though you WANT to communicate, it can be easier to let each parent have their own parenting time.  Coparenting together does not mean you have to do so cooperatively, though that would be ideal; many parents with high conflict coparents find that a more parallel coparenting model actually works better and minimizes the impact of the split on the kids.

Are there limitations we can put in place so that communication can happen – even with a narcissistic, high conflict, or otherwise difficult coparent?

Sure!  But, if I know anything about narcissistic and high conflict coparents, its that they’re going to bend and twist the rules to fit their situation.  I’ve had cases where we’ve specified that contact between the non custodial parent and the child happens with the child alone in their room – and the other parent not present at all – but these provisions are difficult to implement.  In general, high conflict parents don’t follow the rules anyway.

It sucks to feel like his difficulties are going to set a standard in your ability to parent your own children, but in my experience it’s easier (and healthier for the kids – which is always the main point) to have a complete restriction on this type of contact, rather than continue to try to find ways to add in restrictions or limitations that make it more difficult for him to dominate the calls.

But, hey – if you hire me (or anyone at our firm) – you’re in the driver’s seat!  If you want to try it, then we can try to craft a provision that’ll work in your case.  If it doesn’t, we can try again to further limit his ability to manipulate the calls or the way that they’re carried out.

The whole point of agreements is to create a minimum standard of behavior – and then, ultimately, the court can hold the opposing party responsible for breaches of that agreement.  In my experience, courts don’t take this kind of breach very seriously (at least, not until it happens a lot) because, to them, it’s a “minor” point.  They’ll often scold the other party and ask them to revise their behavior but – as you know – narcissists and high conflict coparents often don’t really make measurable changes.

Oh, sure, they might change their method – but that doesn’t mean that it’ll make it easier for you to get what you want out of the exchange: calls with your kids.

If it’s worth it to you, it’s worth it to you.  We can certainly try.  But I do want to just suggest, gently, that this may prove more difficult to implement than it really should and, ultimately, not be as beneficial either to you or the kids as it seems like it would be.

For more information or to schedule a consultation with one of our licensed, experienced Virginia custody attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.