Keyboard warriors beware in your family law matter

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Below is a short excerpt of some of the text messages between parents in the case of Beach and Watson [2017] FamCA 151:

Mum to dad: I had lunch at my nanna house. Been trying to get away but had to feed B. Hope to c us on the weekend. 

Dad replied: I will say one thing that my child is not a toy pet for everyone to hold and pass around so please she is so fragile I won’t have all our family and friends breathing all over her she is all I have thats my blood. 

Mum to dad: [The child] just had her 4 month immunisation. She was upset but A all ok now. Dr said she is very healthy and going well

Dad replied: I told u I wanted to no all appointments I wanted to be there for my daughter u never even said anything last night ur a dead set child brainwashing deceiving destroying ………… stop ur games ps im getting the child to my doctor

Dad to mum: U should take [B] of the floor as ur place is dirty and u have that dog inside no wonder my girl gets sick u got to start to think of her health and safety my god u worry me

These were some of the least offensive messages the father sent to the mother. 

It can be easy to send angry or frustrated messages to an ex-partner in the heat of the moment. This can, however, be extremely damaging to an ongoing co-parenting relationship, hinder the resolution of a matter, and negatively impact upon a parenting case if litigated in the family law courts.  

While judges do appreciate that parents can say regretful things to each other in heightened emotional states, particularly in the initial stages after separation, a continued pattern of offensive and degrading communication with the other parent will negatively impact a case for a child to spend time with a parent. 

In Beach and Watson the mother produced to the Court many pages of similar messages the father had sent her over an extended period. The Judge stated that:

“The evidence gives no confidence that, if a regime of parenting that required communication and negotiation between the parents were instituted, the father would be able to restrain himself from continuing to communicate with the mother in the same manner that he has in the past. 

If the father cannot learn to treat the mother respectfully, both in person and in the way in which he speaks of her to the child, it is difficult to see how his relationship with the child can progress past the stage of day time only contact”. 

It was ordered the mother have sole parental responsibility and the father have no overnight time with their child.

This case highlights the very real ramifications of poor, disrespectful and even abusive communication in parenting matters. 

Some practical tips to think about when communicating with your ex-partner are:

  1. Remember that everything you put in writing may later be used in court. If a judge is deciding how often your children will see you, are you ok with them reading the messages you sent to your ex? If the answer is no, don’t send them.
  2. Don’t send messages in the heat of the moment. Prepare a reply and let it sit in your draft folder overnight. Re-read the message in the morning before sending. More often than not, the message will be edited before sending with the benefit of fresh eyes. 
  3. Ask your lawyer to review your proposed responses before sending them to your ex. We often do this for clients, particularly in the weeks just after separation when emotions are at their highest.
  4. Avoid using language like ‘my child’ in communications. Judges are often critical of this as it appears to lessen the other parent’s role. Instead refer to ‘our child’.
  5. Family and friends are not always helpful. While your new partner or best friend is no doubt a huge support, don’t let them write correspondence for you. They are not the person that ultimately must co-parent with your ex or pay your legal bills if their communications result in a bust up. 
  6. Equal shared care arrangements (i.e week about) are never ordered where there is poor communication between parents. The social science literature says that a week about arrangement is only workable where there is a high degree of cooperation, good communication between parents and similar styles of parenting.

If you need any assistance in your parenting matter, please feel free to contact our Niki Schomberg or one of our other experienced family lawyers. 

– Post by Niki Schomberg

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