Don’t Put It in Writing

Steve Levitan, the creator of the hugely successful sitcom ‘Modern Family,” is in the middle of a rather nasty divorce from his estranged wife Krista.  Krista has filed two unsuccessful requests for a Domestic Violence Restraining Order and the divorce has been anything but inconspicuous.  The most recent incident was a scathing email Steve sent to Krista allegedly telling her if she didn’t back off he would initiate World War III.  That email is allegedly sitting on a Judge’s desk right now. There is no way to know whether there is any truth to this allegation or what the email said exactly, but even if the story is half-true, that is not the type of email you want the Judge who will decide you case reading.

Getting divorced is an emotional and difficult experience even in the most congenial of cases. It is no surprise then that in the heat of the moment parties often send emails or text messages to the other party they later regret.  More often than not the messages are filled with anger, frustration, and hatred – sometime deserved.  The reason this is such a problem nowadays is sending emails and text messages are so quick and convenient.  Before you have had a chance consider what you want to say and whether it needs to be said at all, you have hit the send button and the message is on sitting in someone’s inbox.  This situation is exacerbated only by the ease with which we can send emails and text messages through our smartphones. Right now, without picking up my phone, I could send a friend an email I dictated to Siri.

The best advice I can give is to avoid saying any of these things to the other party at all.  If however you must, never send an email, text message, or other writing they can save and reprint, because it will be saved and reprinted. (It is worthy of note; this will be the first, and only time, you will hear an attorney to tell you not to put something in writing.)

I tell clients if they need to send the other party an email – usually this involves child custody issues – write the email or text message as if you were sending it to the Judge in your case.  You should keep the email/text message short, to the point, and completely devoid of judgment.  This is especially true when you are angry or frustrated with the other party.  The reason is simple.  If you send a nasty email it will end up in the same place Steve Levitan’s email ended up; right on the Judge’s desk.  Unless there are children involved in the case, or you have a completely amicable divorce, there is no reason for one party to speak with the other party without their attorney present.  It will only lead to conflict which leads to court appearances.  If you must send a message to the other party, have your attorney review the email or message before you send it.  This extra step will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

In the cases involving children, I strongly suggest parties move away from the traditional email and text messaging services and employ a service like Our Family Wizard to handle all communications.  Our Family Wizard has a feature called the “Tone Meter” which they describe as an “emotional spellchecker” which “gauges words and phrases against eight levels of connotative feeling, allowing the user to make real-time corrections and adjust the overall tone of messages.”

Part of our job as your attorney is to help you to navigate the emotional aspects of a divorce.  That includes working with you to develop a productive and civil way of communicating with the other party.  It is not a simple process and it will not be developed overnight, but with the assistance of a qualified Family Law attorney you can avoid the mistakes made by countless family law litigants.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding communicating with the other party during your case. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

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