A new study out of the University of Missouri has shed light on exactly how the advent of new technologies like mobile devices and social media websites affects child custody plans and co-parenting in the wake of a divorce or breakup. The results? New technology can either harm or hinder co-parenting relationships, depending on whether the parents initially were willing to communicate and work together.
Conducted by Lawrence Ganong, a researcher and professor in the human development and family studies department, the co-parenting study involved in-depth interviews with 49 parents engaged in parenting plans after a divorce.
The couples who were initially amicable and cooperative used technology to keep up with their children while they were in the care of the other parent, to share events on online calendars, and to call and email about shared responsibilities and schedules. For these couples, tools like texting and social media were used to enhance communication.
The couples who did not initially get along or agree, however, were able to use technology to hinder communication or manipulate others. These couples were more likely to use emails, texts, calls, and online communication to withhold information, complicate issues, avoid confrontations, or deny access to the children. In one example, a parent would deny receiving emails and texts to prevent the other parent from communicating clearly and seeing their children.
What can we learn from the study? Ganong suggests that counselors work with divorcing parents or parents with new parenting plans to learn the most effective ways that they can use technology to communicate, such as online interactive calendars. In addition, parents can learn that communicating through new technology can be less emotional than speaking on the phone or in person.