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Kids' phones should reassure, not rile, co-parents

It's in the best interest of children if parents get along after a divorce. But one small thing – something only a bit bigger than a deck of cards – is causing big rifts between parents.

Their child's smartphone.

In two cases in the past year, parents were arrested after co-parents called the police about their kids' phones being taken away for disciplinary reasons. In both cases, the alleged theft of the phone was the reason for the arrests.

Phones have become a common point of argument between parents in child custody cases. Just as parents traditionally fought about how much TV is too much or what is the right bedtime when the kids are with the other parent, the focus has turned to phones.

Some parents argue that if they are the one who bought the phone, they should be the one who determines the rules regarding its usage. Other parents argue that the phone is fair game as a disciplinary measure as long as children are given another way to reach the other parent.

Problems start as soon as one parent decides a child is old enough to have a phone and buys one, even if the other parent disagrees.

A smartphone can cause a number of rifts between parents. Consider:

  1. Parents can accuse the other of taking away the phone so that the child can't talk to or text with the other parent.
  2. One parent can take the child's phone to block communication from the other parent or that parent's extended family.
  3. One parent can interrupt a child's time with the other parent through constant contact.
  4. A parent can use the tracking device on the phone to see where the other parent is taking the child. Some also ask their children to record or film conversations or activities.
  5. A parent can skim through the child's text messages to see what the kids and other parent are discussing.

Smartphones can be a great tool for kids and parents to maintain contact when they aren't together, such as a quick, "Love you, have a great day at school" text. But they also can be a source of conflict that your family law attorney might need to try to help settle.

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