When they go low, we go high—words many a divorced parent has no doubt uttered after a less-than-pleasant interaction with their ex-spouse. Still, healthy communication is key in a marriage, and it’s even more critical post-divorce, especially if kids are involved. That’s why when you’re feeling particularly combative with your ex, there’s a group of words you want to avoid: Negative labels.
Here’s why negative labels are problematic. According to certified divorce coach Jen Lawrence and author of The Designed Divorce, it’s now common to see a non-disparagement clause in a separation agreement involving children to prevent parents from badmouthing each other in front of the kids. “We are seeing more and more cases where the non-custodial parent claims ‘parental alienation,’ which is an accusation that you are poisoning the children against the other parent,” Lawrence explains.
As a result, you should avoid any kind of abusive language directed at your ex. Examples include calling your spouse “stupid” or accusing them of “lying” or “cheating” or other such words. Even if it’s something you spout off out of frustration—and even if you believe deep down you are right—assigning a negative label, especially if your children are present, could come back to haunt you.
Instead, prioritize being cordial, but firm. “You want to assume that anything you say could be relayed to a judge at some future date and act accordingly,” says Lawrence. Fact-based specifics (say, ‘you told me that you’d pay me the expenses by the 8th and it’s now the 23rd and I have yet to see a payment’) instead of broad generalizations (‘you are a deadbeat dad or mom’) will help you better achieve co-parenting peace and stay out of legal hot water.”