Communication Between the Child and Absent Parent can be a source of conflict among parents. The guidelines provided below are aimed at alleviating the conflict and promoting healthy relationships with both parents for the best interest of the child:
Up to Age 5 (or older if the child does not have another mode of communication listed below available): Skype
1. The custodial parent will need to assist the child in communications with the absent parent. As the child gets older, the custodial parent should allow the child more freedom and privacy in making the call.
2. The best mode of communication is Skype calls with a large desktop monitor. A close second choice would be a lap top computer. Occasionally, when Skype is not available, a regular phone call can be substituted.
3. These calls should be scheduled and should occur about two times per week or by mutual agreement of the parents (and will depend on the time-sharing schedule in place).
4. If the calls do not go well or there is too much conflict between the parents then the benefits of the calls for the child versus the trauma being caused by the conflict will need to be examined.
Ages 4 – 10: Ipad
1. During these ages, a great mode of communication between the child and the absent parent is an ipad.
2. Ideally, the parents should split the cost of the ipad and present it to the child for a birthday or special occasion as a joint present from both parents. With the present, the parents should also provide the child with some rules associated with the ipad (this will be age appropriate depending on what age the child is when the ipad is purchased). If the ipad is jointly purchased it should travel back and forth with the child to the parents’ homes.
3. The rules associated with the ipad should include a mandatory docking time before bed as well as no use of the ipad during meals. The use of games should be limited. The use of apps should be restricted to age appropriate. The parents should do frequent and random checks of the ipad to ensure appropriate use and not overuse of the device.
4. If the parents do not purchase the ipad jointly, then each parent should have a separate ipad for the child’s use at his or her home.
5. The child should be instructed on how to use Facetime on the ipad and the parents’ contact information as well as close relatives’ contact information should be entered.
6. For younger ages, the calls may need to be scheduled. The child should over time be given freedom to call the absent parent and other relatives at his or her discretion and the calls should not be monitored. In most cases, the child should be able to send and receive calls on his or her own by the age of 6. The absent parent should never encourage the child of the need to place a call to him or her. The call should occur naturally as the child desires. If a child has a tendency to “overcall” the absent parent then the length of the calls may need to be limited.
7. The calls are intended to allow the child freedom to communicate with the absent parent as he or she desires. It should not cause a strain on the relationship or time with the custodial parent. It the calls result in negative reactions for the child, then the guidelines of the calls will need to be reevaluated to fit the needs of the child.
Ages 11 – 14: Cell Phone
1. Around 5th or 6th grade, the parents may wish to provide the child with a cell phone. This decision should be made by mutual agreement.
2. As with the ipad, ideally the parents should split the cost of the cell phone and present it to the child for a birthday or special occasion as a joint present from both parents. With the present, the parents should also provide the child with some mutual rules associated with the cell phone (this will be age appropriate depending on what age the child is when the cell phone is purchased).
3. The cell phone should travel back and forth with the child to the parents’ homes. The parents should split the costs of the cell phone. Although the cell phone will most likely be associated with one of the parent’s family plans, both parents should have all passwords needed to access the cell phone and any apps on the cell phone.
4. The rules associated with the cell phone should include a mandatory docking time before bed as well as no use of the cell phone during meals. The use of games should be limited. The use of apps should be restricted to age appropriate. The parents should do frequent and random checks of the cell phone to ensure appropriate use and not overuse of the device.
5. It is extremely important to restrict the child’s access to social media apps including Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat. The child needs to start by using the phone for regular calls, text messaging and Facetime ONLY with friends and family. This is much easier for the parents to monitor and ensure appropriate communications with known and trusted individuals. Overtime, the parents may grant additional access to apps and social media via mutual agreement ONLY.
6. The parents should prepare a contract for cell phone use and have the child sign it. It is extremely important that the child understands that the same rules apply to both parents’ homes.
7. The child should be able to text, call, or Facetime the absent parent and other relatives as he or she desires subject to re-evaluation if negative results occur or it is otherwise not in the best interest of the child. There should be not be any required scheduled calls with the absent parent but the custodial parent may need to encourage the child to call the other parent to report any special occurrences/events (such as a report after the first day of school, the other parent’s birthday, etc.).
8. The parents should routinely and randomly check the child cell phones to ensure appropriate use and not overuse.
Ages 15 – 18: Cell Phone
1. If the child has demonstrated maturity with the use of the cell phone without major rule violations, then the parents can start to allow the child more freedom and privacy in the use of the device.
2. All rules associated with the device should be my mutual agreement.
3. The rules are very much driven by the individual personality and responsibility of the child.
4. There should be no restriction on calls placed to the absent parent and no requirement that the child talk to the absent parent if there is not a desire to do so. By this point, the child has developed his or her own comfort levels with the relationships with both parents and forced communication with either parent is unlikely to be successful.