Most parenting plans and custody orders include a provision regarding the frequency of phone contact between parent and child during the other parent’s custodial time. Typical provisions range from a mandated call once a day to unrestricted telephone access.
Co-parenting etiquette problems surrounding telephone contact arise when the visiting parent perceives the telephone calls as an intrusion into their time with the child. It is equally problematic when the non-visiting parent insists upon calling the child multiple times a day, intentionally creating disruptions of the child’s time with the other parent.
Many parents in this situation will find that their children do not particularly like talking on the phone and may call the other parent out of obligation rather than need. In high conflict custody cases, a child may be self-conscious about what he says on the phone because he may have divided loyalties. Some children experience anxiety when they are away from one or both parents and may feel the need to call their parent to check in. Whatever the circumstances are, parents practicing good co-parenting etiquette will follow the following guidelines with respect to telephone contact:
- Unless there is a specific need, parents should not initiate a call or text to their children more than one time a day while they are in the other parent’s custody. It is understandable to miss the child, but co-parenting requires respect for the child’s time with the other parent.
- If the parent’s call is not immediately returned by the child, that parent should not continue to call. Parents should understand that the child may have plans which make an immediate returned call impractical. If the call is not returned within 24 hours, it may be appropriate to send a reminder text or call.
- Parents should not expect the child to give a play by play of her daily activities. Co-parenting requires respect for the child’s time. No one appreciates being interrogated.
- Parents should not intercept the call and fail to give the child the message from the other parent. Co-parenting requires parents to put the child’s need for meaningful contact with both parents ahead of the parent’s own insecurities.
- Parents should not record the child’s conversations with the other parent. In many states, it is illegal to record conversations without both parties consent.
- Parents should always give the child privacy so that he or she may speak freely with the other parent. It is difficult to have a meaningful conversation with someone when a third party is hovering around listening to every word.
- Parents should not guilt the child for wanting to call or talk to the other parent. Co-parenting requires that the child be given permission to love the other parent
- A parent should not send the child to the other parent’s home with a “secret” cell phone for purposes of calling the parent without checking with the other parent first. This puts the child in the middle of his parent’s dispute. Co-parenting requires that children are not forced to hold secrets from the other parent.
- A parent should not choose inappropriate times or locations for the child to return a call to the other parent, like in a noisy restaurant or very late at night. The child should have the opportunity to make a call to the other parent where it is quiet and when he is free from outside distractions.
Jessica H. Anderson
Family Law Attorney Reno, NV