For former spouses who choose to co-parent after their divorce, maintaining effective communication is critical. Coparenting requires former spouses to communicate regularly, and, if their communications become hostile or unproductive, this can cause significant problems that can be difficult to overcome.

One method of communication that has proven to be highly effective for co-parenting former spouses is the BIFF method. BIFF is the acronym for “brief, informative, friendly, and firm.” It has been popularized by the High Conflict Institute, which has published a book titled: BIFF for Coparent Communication: Your Guide to Difficult Coparent Texts, Emails, and Social Media Posts.

This book is a good resource for divorced spouses who are coparenting, and we encourage those who are co-parenting—as well as those who are thinking about coparenting—to consider picking up a copy.

9 Key Questions for Crafting a BIFF Communication

The concept of BIFF communication centers on the idea of clearly relaying messages without triggering an unnecessary and undesirable emotional response. While it is important to acknowledge your emotions—especially after a divorce—emotions can often get in the way of communicating effectively. As the saying goes, there is a time and a place for everything. When communicating with your former spouse about child-related matters, this generally isn’t the time to stir up emotions in most cases.

To determine whether a text or email follows the BIFF method, former spouses who are coparenting can ask themselves nine key questions. These questions (and some of our thoughts on each question) are as follows:

1. Is It Brief?

When you are trying to convey a very specific message (which is often the case with coparenting), less is generally more. This is especially true when communicating via text and email. For example, if you are trying to confirm whether your coparent will be able to pick up your child from a friend’s house, don’t say, “As you know, Jane is at a friend’s house and needs to be picked up at 7:00 pm. I am unavailable due to a prior commitment, so I need to know if you are available.” Instead, simply ask, “Can you pick Jane up at 7:00 pm?”

But, while it is good to be brief, being too brief can create unnecessary confusion—which can ultimately lead to unnecessary disputes. For example, while “Jane at 7:00?” is even briefer, it is also too ambiguous to be effective.

2. Is It Informative?

This leads to the second key question: Is your communication informative? Communications between coparents should generally seek to avoid follow-up questions whenever possible—as the need for follow-up also creates a risk of confusion. By being brief but also sufficiently informative, coparents can avoid many communication-related issues.

3. Is It Friendly?

Communications between coparents should maintain a friendly tone. Even in the most amicable of circumstances, it takes a lot to coparent, and keeping communications civil can help foster a healthy ongoing relationship after a divorce. But, while communications should be friendly, they should not be patronizing or over the top. Communications should remain simple, purposeful, and straightforward, and they should exclude any extraneous commentary.

4. Is It Firm?

Similar to communications that are too brief or insufficiently informative, communications that are wishy-washy can also create unintended problems when coparenting. While neither former spouse should be overbearing or directive, both spouses should be firm when making requests or saying what they need to say for purposes of managing child-related matters.

5. Does It Contain Any Advice?

Unsolicited advice can rub many people the wrong way. This is often especially true in post-divorce scenarios. As a result, written communications between coparents should generally be devoid of any advice. Generally, if one former spouse feels the need to give advice, this typically requires a longer discussion that should be handled in person rather than via text or email.

6. Does It Contain Any Admonishments?

Just as written communications between coparents generally should not contain any advice, they also should not contain any admonishments. Blaming someone for something that has happened presents a high risk for conflict, and it is rarely (if ever) the best approach. Here, too, if one coparent feels the need to address a particular issue with the other, the best approach is to schedule a time to talk—and ideally to establish parameters in advance that are designed to facilitate a productive and non-adversarial discussion. One way to do this is by establishing these parameters in the parents’ coparenting agreement during the divorce process.

7. Does It Contain Any Apologies?

Apologies can have both positive and negative consequences. For example, simple apologies such as, “I’m sorry I forgot about that,” can help temper frustrations and maintain a good coparenting relationship. But, being overly apologetic can actually fan the flames of a dispute in some cases; and, while not ideal, in some cases former spouses will hold apologies against their coparents to use as leverage later on.

8. How Do You Think Your Coparent Will Respond?

One of the most effective ways to craft a BIFF communication is to put yourself in your coparent’s shoes. If you received the message you are about to send, would you potentially be confused? Would it trigger any negative emotions? If your answer to either of these questions is “Yes,” then you should revise and reconsider your message before sending it.

9. Is There Anything You Should Take Out, Add, or Change?

This brings us to the last key question: Is there anything you should take out, add, or change? If you have typed anything your coparent doesn’t really need to know in order for your communication to be effective, then take it out to make your communication briefer. If your message is confusing or ambiguous, then add to it to make it more informative. If the tone is wrong, take your time to make any tweaks that are necessary to make it both sufficiently friendly and sufficiently firm.

Have Questions About Coparenting in Illinois? Contact Us for a Free Consultation

If you have questions about coparenting after a divorce in Illinois, we encourage you to contact us for more information. To arrange a free and confidential consultation with Gurnee divorce lawyer Deanna J. Bowen, please call 847-623-4002 or request an online appointment.