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Mail order divorces
Most divorced couples would probably prefer not to see each other. Ever again. But when you share custody of your children, you have to assume a certain amount of face-to-face time amid the endless back-and-forthing.
Think of the clashing summer vacation plans, the who-goes-to-Lucy's-birthday-party, and those devilish contretemps that can arise if Mom's new boyfriend is suddenly sleeping over on 'her' nights to host the children.
Let's just say that no matter how well ex-spouses and still-parents coordinate, there's a good chance of teary phone calls, angry exchanges during drop-off, and all-out fights about who's not saving enough for college, often played out smack in front of the children.
Unless, of course, it's all done remotely. These days, the cool aloofness of technology is helping temper sticky emotional exchanges between former spouses. And for the most part, according to divorce lawyers and jointcustody bearers, handling the details via high tech is a serious upgrade.
It's joint custody - at a distance.
And it makes a big difference. When Zeita Jones, a 39-year-old nurse in Los Angeles, divorced her husband of 15 years in 2010, dealing with her ex while shuffling their three children every week was difficult. "When emotions were running high at the beginning, everything was e-mail and text, " Jones said. "It's a lot easier not hearing the voice. It's detached. "
It's not surprising that most people don't see eye-to-eye with the person they left seething on a couples therapist's sofa. If you didn't get along with someone well enough to stay married, chances are you will probably disagree after you divorce.
"People don't want to talk to their exes because just the sound of their voice is irritating, " said Randy Kessler, chair of the American Bar Association's Family Law Section and a matrimonial lawyer in Atlanta. "But they can e-mail. They can share an online calendar. They can use any number of resources on the internet. There are even divorce apps. "
E-mail and texting alone have practically revolutionised postdivorce family relationships. "Email absolutely takes away the in-your-face aggravation and emotional side of joint custody, " said Lubov Stark, a divorce lawyer on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. "You just write, 'I want to pick up Kimmy at 5, but I'm running late and will be there at 6. ' It's the best thing ever. "
For Cheryl Wu, a 34-year-old Manhattan pediatrician, nailing down details on a Google calendar makes all the difference. First, she and her ex-husband, who have joint legal custody (she has primary physical custody) of their fiveyear-old son, will e-mail each other possible arrangements until they reach a point of agreement. Once there, it goes into the mutual calendar. Since the two separated in 2010, they have only had to talk face-to-face two or three times.
Former spouses aren't the only parties to see a benefit in keeping their communiquês limited to the keyboard. Technology has become so commonplace in divorce arrangements that it has become part of the formal legal process, a development divorce lawyers and judges applaud. Many joint custody arrangements will stipulate weekly Skype sessions between parent and child while apart.
"It's all set out in detail, " said Michael Kelly, a divorce lawyer and partner at Kelly, Fernandez & Karney in Los Angeles. "Your phone has to be available at certain hours, and if you don't follow the rules, it's a good way to lose custody. "
Parents are often required to buy a cellphone for their child, and call times are recorded to ensure an adequate amount of time. "That way, Mom can't say, 'Ok, you can talk to Daddy for two minutes, but that's it', " Kelly said. And with a parent calling children directly on their phone, there's no possibility of a bitter intermediary exchange between parent and parent.
When relationships deteriorate to the point of renewed legal action, courts are increasingly ordering ex-couples to work out their differences via technology. A new crop of online custody tools has been specifically designed to keep sniping parents at bay.
One judge ordered an ex-couple to use an online tool called Our Family Wizard. Now, lawyers supervise e-mail exchanges between her and her ex, ensuring that each party responds to the other in a timely manner. All e-mails are time dated and tracked.
Parents can create a shared expense log and receive automated notices and reminders about parental obligations.
Many see the Wizard and similar online custody management tools as a post-marriage savior, especially after old-fashioned conversation has failed.
"The most hostile couples I see are the ones using the Wizard, and I think in those cases nothing would get done without it, " said Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills-based psychotherapist. "They wouldn't have any other means of communicating if it weren't online. "
But as anyone who has ever quarreled electronically knows, keyboarded messages can nonetheless get testy. Humour, irony, sarcasm and even genuine kindness get lost in the cloud. Not every nuance carries over in a hastily tapped text. And people don't answer e-mails from their exhusbands the same way people don't answer e-mails from anyone they don't feel like corresponding with. "There was a moment when things were so acrimonious, I didn't want to be textable or e-mailable at all, " Ms Abrams recalled. Now where is the technology that can solve that?
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