Your (exSpouse


If communicating with your (ex) spouse makes you anxious, you’re in good company. We’ve got you covered with skillful words to use in the most common stressful situations.



When your spouse pressures you to discuss settlement

  • You’re in the divorce process and your spouse pressures you to discuss settlement before you’re ready

  • Your spouse pushes you to discuss settlement directly when you want to go through your lawyer


To not feel forced into doing something you don’t want to do, or pressured into making a deal before you’re ready.


Take a breath. You don’t need to feel rushed into settlement discussions when you are not ready, don’t have enough info, or are just plain uncomfortable having them directly with your spouse.  A decision this important shouldn’t be made in haste.  Don’t be pushed into committing to anything until you feel prepared and ready to have that conversation.  The sentiment to try to convey is “agreeably vague.”  Agreeable that you’d like to settle; vague as to what you will accept. 


  1. I understand that you want a quick settlement.  I want to settle, too.  But I’m not going to be able to do that until I have the information that I need to make a decision. Please get my lawyer the information she asked for so that we can discuss settlement.

  2. I know you don’t want to pay lawyers.  I’m not looking to spend more than is necessary either. But I’m not comfortable making this important of a decision on my own, and I’m going to listen to my lawyer.  I’d prefer to settle, and my lawyer will do what she can to help me do that. 

  3. Thank you for the offer. I know you want an answer but I’m not ready to comment. I need time to think about it and to consult with my attorney before I can respond.



When your spouse tries to talk you out of hiring an attorney


You’re separating/separated and your spouse tries to convince you not to use a lawyer by saying something like:

  • “If you hire a lawyer, I won’t give you a dime”;

  • “The lawyers will take everything”;

  • “You don’t need your own/a lawyer”; or  “We can use the same one – mine.”


To protect yourself and communicate that having your own lawyer is in your best interest.


Do not let fear stop you from doing what you need to do. Understand that threats like these can feel intimidating, but there’s zero truth to them. In fact, it’s usually the opposite: hiring a lawyer is for your protection, and their job is to help you to get a fair deal. 


  1. I understand you don’t like it, but I’ve hired a lawyer and plan to keep him. I hope we’ll be able to settle.

  2. That’s not my expectation. I’ve heard very good things about my lawyer. 

  3. I don’t know where the information that we can share a lawyer came from. My understanding is that the same lawyer can't represent us both and I need my own lawyer to protect my interests.


When someone is threatening you - even if it’s your spouse - it’s really no different than the 12-year-old middle school bully. You know, the one who threatened to stop being your friend if you didn’t let her copy your homework?  


The best way to deal with that childhood bully was to ignore her. A bully is looking for a reaction — any reaction. Do you remember how shocking it was when you ignored the bully long enough, eventually she stopped?  It’s the same thing now, even if it’s harder to do. 


If your spouse is doing things that seem intended to threaten, intimidate, or harass you, the best reaction is:

  1. Respond once with a short, firm reply.

  2. If he repeats the threat, let him know you’re not going to continue responding with language like this: "Please see my email from yesterday, which I copied below.  I’ve told you how I feel about this and am not going to respond again."

  3. Don’t respond again!


When your spouse threatens to seek custody of your children


Your spouse tells you:

  • he’s seeking custody;

  • he wants to take your kids from you;

  • you’ll never see them again; or

  • something equally as frightening

To not have a panicked reaction, say something that might actually hurt your custody case, or give up something else that is important (which may be what he really wants) out of fear that he’ll act on his threat.


Do not buy into the hysteria these kinds of statements are designed to induce.  Give your spouse an opportunity to calm down.  If necessary,  let him know that you don’t want to go to court but aren’t afraid of it either.


This is a sucker punch in the gut, the kind of threat most used when a) your spouse is afraid you will take the children from him so he’s overreacting, b) he thinks scaring you with the thought of taking your children may lead to a better financial outcome for him or c) he truly wants custody.


Sometimes this statement is joined with some version of you’re a bad mom, e.g.  “Everyone will see that you’re crazy” or “You’re not fit to have the kids.”


Either way, your reaction needs to be the same: respond as calmly as you can.  It’s important to talk to your lawyer and/or your therapist about what to do next.  


  1. I want to work out custody, but I don’t agree with what you are saying. I hope you change your mind, but if we can’t agree, that’s why we have a judge.

  2. I’m concerned about your ability to co-parent if you think that trying to “take them away” from me would be best for them. I hope you can get to a place where we can have a reasonable conversation about custody.

  3. I don’t agree with your comments and am not going to engage in this conversation with you anymore.

  4. Your email has a threatening tone.  If that’s not how you meant it, let me know.  Otherwise, I’m not going to respond when you speak this way.


If your spouse makes accusations about your behavior or character, it’s important that you refute them.  Once. (By not responding at all, you can allow it to seem as if there may be truth to what is being said about you.)  


This is where Nervous Nancy loses her cupcakes, worrying that there’s truth behind these statements. Girlfriend, take a breath and use your head.  Have you legitimately put your children in danger? Do you engage in abusive or addictive behaviors?  If so, you need to talk to your lawyer and get help pronto. But if you know there’s no merit in what he’s saying, then don’t give it any!



When your spouse threatens you financially


Your spouse makes comments about your financial settlement, like:

  • “If you fight me, you’ll get nothing”;

  • “I’m not going to pay for you anymore”;

  • “My lawyer said your offer is laughable and you’ll never get what you’re asking for”; or

  • “I’ll just quit working so you can’t get any alimony.”


To not buy into these comments or let them intimidate you.


Take your legal advice from your lawyer, not from your spouse or his lawyer. Just because your spouse’s lawyer says something doesn’t mean it will happen. He may not have even said it!  But if he did, your lawyer might see it differently.) Statements like these aren’t tied to the truth. Your spouse doesn't know any more about what the judge will do than you do. Reply with a strong, short answer that does not play into this intimidation.


  1. Your lawyer and mine have different opinions.

  2. If you don’t like my offer, then make another one.

  3. Don’t respond at all. This comment is nothing but a threat. You don’t need to respond to threats. Forward it to your lawyer (if you don’t have a lawyer, save it in your divorce file) and try not to think about it anymore.



When your spouse scares
you physically


Your spouse says or does something that makes you feel scared physically.​


To ensure your safety and get help.


If you feel physically threatened, do not engage or threaten back.


If you feel you’re in immediate danger, protecting yourself physically has to be your number one priority. Get yourself and your children to a safe place and call 911. A lot of women don’t report abuse because they’re embarrassed or don’t want their spouse to get into trouble.  But if you’re really afraid for yourself or your children, you need to seek help immediately.  Then, once you’re safe, share his communications with your attorney and/or your therapist.


There is no script for this — unless absolutely critical, do not communicate with your ex in these circumstances.


When your ex keeps asking for more parenting time

  • Your ex constantly asks for more time than your parenting plan provides.

  • You don’t want to say yes but are worried how it will look if you say no. 


To set reasonable boundaries on what you agree to, and stop this from becoming a recurring conversation.


Know that you’re in good company.  A lot of moms feel their ex is constantly asking for more/different time than their parenting plan says. 


You’re right not to take this lightly: courts do look at whether the custodial parent is flexible with the non-custodial parent.  But it’s a balance, and being flexible doesn’t mean you have to agree every time.  You can also offer an alternative in an attempt to show you’re trying to be cooperative.


  1. I know you want more time with the kids. I agree to that whenever possible. But I’m not going to be able to this weekend.

  2. This is the 3rd time in 6 weeks you’ve asked for extra time. I said yes the first two but have to say no this time.

  3. The kids and I have plans this weekend. Maybe you can pick them up early next weekend instead.

  4. I know you see the kids less than I do, but that’s the agreement we reached. It’s important to keep them on a consistent schedule.


When your ex frequently asks to trade parenting time


Your ex asks you to swap parenting time. He can’t keep the children during his own time, but instead of just asking you to keep them for him, he wants it to be a trade (he gets your time in exchange for you helping him out during his).


  • To maintain control over your own schedule;

  • To not feel you have to give in every time he asks;

  • To maintain your boundaries while being reasonable.


Communicate that you’re willing to keep the kids during his parenting time, but not as a trade. Alternately, set limits on how often you’re willing to change the schedule.  There is no magic number here.  Strive to find a balance between being flexible and not letting his schedule wreak havoc on yours.



  1. ​I’m happy to have the kids while you go out of town, but not as an exchange for my weekend when we already have plans.  Let me know if you want me to keep them for you.

  2. I really like to keep the weekends consistent for the kids. Trading so often is confusing for everyone.



When he doesn’t show up for parenting time


He didn’t actually cancel his parenting time; he just didn’t show.  Or he canceled at the last minute, leaving it to you to tell the kids. 


  • To deal with this calmly for yourself and your kids.

  • To document what’s happening in a factual way in case you need it later.

  • To let him know the impact his actions had on the children.


Remember:  just the facts ma’am. Even though he’s the one no-showing, how you react matters. If your default communication style is Hostile Hannah, be careful. This is where insults and name-calling can get out of control. While you may be justified in being angry, you now know showing it can hurt you. 


It’s wrong, but you can’t force him to parent — and neither can the judge or the police.  You can let him know that his actions hurt your child, but do it in a factual, non-insulting way.  If your child is old enough, you might also suggest he speak to your child directly about why he didn’t show up and how your child is feeling about it.  And if it’s a continuous pattern, you may have grounds to change your parenting schedule or ask for more child support.


  1. This is your weekend, but you didn’t pick the children up on Friday. You haven’t responded to my texts or phone calls. At this point, I assume you won’t be seeing them, and we’ll make other plans for the rest of the weekend.

    (Note: Don’t send this until you’ve given him ample opportunity to show up or contact you.  

  2. You’re 40 minutes late and not answering your phone. If I don’t hear from you by 6:15, the kids and I are going out to eat.

  3. Jack is upset that you canceled tonight. I think it’d be a good idea if you speak to him about it yourself.


When you need to discuss an important issue about your child


You have to make an important decision for your child - like getting braces or changing schools. You know you have to discuss it with your ex but aren’t comfortable about having that conversation.


To get through this conversation swiftly and effectively, make a decision and move on.


  1. Set up the issue. 

  2. Give enough information that your ex can do some research and form an opinion.

  3. Provide information as to your preference and why. 

  4. Set a reasonable deadline for a response.

Having a discussion with your ex about a big decision may be the last thing you want to do. But it’s part of co-parenting (and required by most states). Hostile Hannah turns this into an opportunity to insult, while Nervous Nancy lets herself get talked out of her own opinion. Try to stick to the facts, and don’t engage in a fight if it comes to that. And if you have the right to make a final decision, once you've gone through this process, make one!



These scripts will require you to fill in your specific situation, as you’ve got to tell him what the issue is, and give enough facts that he can weigh in.

At Hannah’s dentist appointment today, Dr. Smiley said it’s time to see an orthodontist. He said her top teeth are very crowded and there isn’t room for her adult teeth to come in. He gave me 2 referrals:  Dr. Donald Straighter and Dr. Leslie Manning. I checked them both out. It seems more parents we know have taken their children to Dr. Manning and have been happy with the results. Please let me know your preference (or other options you’d like us to consider) within 7 days. If you want to consult with both I’m ok with that, but I would like to make a decision by the end of the month.


Make the subject of your email one that lets him know that it involves a decision, such as “Important Issue to Discuss: Orthodontist.” This flags his attention and also makes it easier for you to keep track of the conversation.  


In fact, be an organized gal and use descriptive subjects for all your emails.  If you need to dig one up later, like to forward to your lawyer, you’ll be glad you did!


Also, match your tone to the seriousness of the issue. “Urgent” or “Emergency!!” should be reserved for truly urgent or emergency situations (and probably should be sent only after you’ve tried to reach him by phone first). 



When he keeps asking the same question or pressing for more information


He asked you a question and you answered it.  But he didn’t like your response, so he asks again 2, 3, 4 times.  


To end the conversation, which is starting to feel like harassment


You can either let yourself get caught on this Ferris wheel of ask, answer, ask again, or you can get off swiftly and confidently.  If you choose the first, buckle up sister, because you’re in for a long ride. 


If you want to choose the second, here’s how:


First, you need to directly answer the question.  Sometimes we think we responded, but we didn’t. (We just talked about whatever we wanted to talk about instead). Re-read your initial response and make sure you clearly and directly responded, and gave the appropriate amount of information.  If you didn’t, do that now. Your tone should be cordial but matter of fact. Once you’ve done that, here’s how to respond the next time you’re asked the same question:


  1. I already answered that below.  I’ve told you all the information I have and don’t have anything more to add to my original comments.

  2. You asked me the same thing a few days ago and I responded on October 12th. I copied our conversation below. 


Note: We like copying or forwarding your original response, so you have a nice clean chain of communication.


If this is a repetitive pattern, add this:


We’ve already had this conversation and I gave you my answer.  I don’t think we need to keep discussing it so I’m not going to respond again.


If what you’re receiving feels more of an accusation than a question (i.e. making a bunch of statements you disagree with), then use this:

I disagree with what you said, but I don’t think getting into each statement you made would be productive.  I’m not going to respond about this again, and my lack of a response is not an indication that I agree.


When your ex brings up an adult conversation in front of your children


Your ex brings up an “adult” or private topic in front of your kids, sometimes in a public place.  It could be as simple as asking for extra time with your child without discussing it with you first (“Can Jackson sleep at my house tonight? I’ll get him to school tomorrow.”) Or something more significant, like whether your child can go on a voluntary school trip. 


To effectively table the conversation for a more appropriate time.



Be the adult in the room.  This means not letting yourself be forced into an inappropriate conversation (or a conversation in an inappropriate setting). It also means not saying yes to something just because you feel uncomfortable.




  1. This isn’t the right time or place to discuss this. Next time please bring this up when it’s just us.

  2. This is an adult issue. I’ll respond to you when we can speak privately.

  3. Please don’t put me on the spot like that. If you want to make a change to the schedule you should have asked me earlier.​



When your child doesn’t want to go to the other parent for visitation


You need to communicate to the other parent that your child doesn’t want to have visitation.  


To address your child’s concern/desires while being supportive of the other parent’s relationship with the child (and not violate your parenting plan).


Part of co-parenting is encouraging your child’s relationship with the other parent. But if there are times your child really doesn’t want to go, you may feel you need to talk to the other parent about it. Be mindful that kids often tell one parent one thing and the other something totally different. Whether it comes from a desire to please or manipulation, it happens. Before you start this conversation, make sure she really doesn’t want to go and has a legitimate reason. Also, while you have a right to suggest to the other parent that your child not go, he might insist she does anyway. This scripts are designed for you to open up a dialogue with your ex and try to reach an agreement, not as a license to withhold visitation or to discourage your child from visiting.


  1. Sarah said she doesn’t want to go to your house. She feels like she doesn’t get your attention when she’s there and spends most of her time in her room alone. I think it will help if you will reassure her how much you love being with her and come up with something fun to do together.

  2. Isabel wants to stay home this weekend.  I’ve encouraged her to go, but she’s really upset. She’s not ready to sleep in another house so soon. What if we start your overnights next week instead?

  3. Will is really stressed about his test on Thursday. He’s more comfortable studying in his room. What do you think about him skipping dinner with you tomorrow night so he can come straight home after school and keep studying?

  4. I know this is your weekend and you made plans to go out of town, but Cameron has a soccer game on Saturday morning. It’s important to both him and his team. Would you consider either changing your plans or letting him stay home so he can go to his game?


The message to send is that you’re both a concerned parent and a co-parent. It’s not your job - and probably not your legal right - to decide whether or not your child actually goes.  If your ex refuses your suggestion (e.g. “spending time with me is more important than a soccer game”), or your child is showing signs of distress, or you have a teenager who is physically refusing to go, talk to your lawyer about what can be done.  Depending on the age of your child, you may be expected to bring them to visitation even if they don’t want to go. 


Also, if your ex isn’t open to having this conversation with you, ask your child’s therapist to find out what’s going on. If the therapist feels a change in the schedule would be best, it may be easier for your ex to accept the suggestion from the neutral counselor. Let the therapist be your child’s advocate. 


When he asks
if you’re dating


Your ex asks if you’re dating someone. 


  • To avoid an uncomfortable conversation;

  • To keep your private life private; or

  • To not damage your court case.



What you say depends in part on where you are in the separation process. If you’re not yet divorced, don’t say a word until you talk to your lawyer! In some states, dating someone while you’re still married can hurt your case, while in others it doesn’t matter. Give a simple, vague answer and end the conversation. (Note:  being vague or choosing not to answer does not mean to be dishonest. Also, if he’s asking who is around your children, then you might address his parenting concern without giving specifics about your private life.)




  1. Yes, I’m dating, but I’m not ready to share any details.

  2. I’m not comfortable discussing this with you right now.  If I get to the point that I’m serious with someone, I’ll let you know.

  3. I haven’t introduced the children to anyone if that’s what you’re asking.



When you need to address a safety concern with your ex


Someone (your child, a neighbor, a school parent) told you something that’s got you concerned about the safety of your children with your ex.


To voice your concern and get to the bottom of the situation without starting a world war.


First, consider the source and the fact that the event may or may not have actually happened. Your goal is to get an explanation that satisfies your concern, or if it doesn’t, to have information you can do something with (like take it to your lawyer, build a record, etc.).


Next, don’t make accusations. Give your ex an opportunity to explain. Many times accusations are just responded to with accusations or insults (like how hysterical or controlling you are), not answers. Don’t go into this conversation with guns blazing. 


And finally, if your info is coming from an objective/reliable source, try to correct concerning behavior or at least document what happened. 


  1. Sara told me that last Saturday you left her at your home alone and she was scared. Please let me know what happened. If you did leave her, how long was it for and how far away were you?

  2. Cameron said you left him at the soccer field for an hour. I would appreciate an explanation.

  3. Mrs. Smith said when she dropped the kids off at your house after school, no one was home. We agreed that a parent would always be home after school. Please confirm that you will make sure you are home when they are dropped off from now on.  


When you need to ask for reimbursement


Your divorce agreement says he pays all or a portion of certain expenses (like uncovered medical bills, school tuition, summer camp). You paid the bills directly and need to ask him to pay you back. 


  • To get reimbursed, or

  • If he won’t pay you back, to have a clean record so you can seek help from the Court.


Asking for money isn't fun. But don’t overthink this. Stick to the topic at hand, be factual, and don’t use insulting language.


Use a simple, reusable form like the one below.  Fill in the correct information, attach your receipts, and hit send. Don’t forget to copy yourself so you can save your email. 




Per our divorce decree, you are responsible for 75% of the children’s uncovered medical costs and school expenses. Last month, I paid the following expenses:








Dr. Willows

Pineview Prep School


Urgent Care

Emma - poison ivy

Emma - tuition deposit for next year



Catie - urgent care visit and strep throat test







Please reimburse me $822.00 within 30 days. Thanks.


Not reimbursed in a timely way?  Add a “past due” line to your chart and email subject line. Use your chart and your emails as a running tally of expenses and reimbursements.  The few minutes you spend keeping up with this will be well worth it if you’re ever in court to enforce what’s owed to you.


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