My office just received a Court Order from the Family Part of the New Jersey Superior Court of New Jersey. This order uses a term I had not heard before; “Pre-Transition Emails.” This made me reflect about how about how over my 20 years of practicing as a New Jersey divorce attorney I have watched the law evolve along with technology. As far as directly impacting my cases, it is in my New Jersey child custody cases where I have seen the biggest impact. Let’s explore.
In the 1990’s, email was still in its infancy and text was not even a part of our vocabulary. In fact, it was not until the late 1990’s that cell phones were even in play (my personal opinion is that 9/11 is when cell phones went from a “luxury” to a necessity, especially here in New Jersey). Therefore, in situations in which the parents are not getting along, co-parenting as divorcing or divorced parents was quite difficult for a number of reasons.
First, certain parents are malicious in their refusal to communicate with the other parent. “Using the child as a pawn” is one of my more vicious arguments when I am in Court arguing against a parent who plays these types of games. Back in the “old” days, parents were at the mercy of the other parent with respect to parenting time and communicating with one another.
Second, other parents would behave in a selfish or irresponsible manner with respect to picking up or dropping off a child. Imagine waiting, wondering and worrying about the welfare of your child for hours with no way to find out that everything is ok. Many NJ domestic violence cases occurred after one parent arrived hours late and emotions inevitably running high.
Lastly, without today’s technology, even parents acting in bad faith did not have the resources to advise the other parent (absent stopping at a pay phone – remember those days?) that they were running late for pick-up and drop off. We even had different names. In the 1990’s, we called it “visitation.” Now we call it parenting time.
Technology has saved the day. Back to that recent Court Order and “Pre-Transition Emails.” In this case, wherein these parents (who have been divorced for over 5 years” do not get along whatsoever, the judge put in her Order that there shall be a 24 hour Pre-Transition Email with a respect to parenting time. In other words, the parties have 24 hours to send and reply to such emails to confirm the pick-up and drop off schedule of the parties’ child. The court specifically stated that the emails were in the best interest of the child.
Well before this case, I have been advising my client’s that between email (and now text messaging), there are no excuses for miscommunication regarding the custodial transfer of a child from one parent to the other. If you are running late, then simply pull over and text. If you anticipate a potential change in plans in advance of the next parenting time event, email the other parent. Communication is the essence of any relationship. More importantly, I emphasize that, even when the other parent is in the wrong, the focus must remain to be the best interest of the child. I often say, “please just put yourself in the other parents shoes,” and think about how they would feel. Of course, I always politely remind my client’s to be very careful and deliberate when emailing or texting the other parent in a high conflict situation. I specifically say, “When writing to the other parent, always pretend that a Judge will be reading it one day.” When I put it that way, my client’s seem to “get it.”
If you or a loved one find themselves having problems co-parenting, please never hesitate to give me a call at my office. Thank you.