Better, Smarter Communication with Your Ex/Co-parent and Why You Need to Do It

I generally don’t recommend books on divorce or particular strategies articulated in these books because, while the advice is often (not always) good, it gets lost in the excessive number of pages it takes to stretch the advice to book length when it can and should be reduced to pamphlet- or even single page-length. one book I’ve heard rave reviews about is a book entitled BIFF: Your Guide to Difficult Coparent Texts, Emails and Social Media Posts (I provided the link if you want to buy it; I have no affiliate arrangement with Amazon)BIFF explains how to communicate effectively with especially rude and otherwise difficult ex-spouses and co-parents.

If you can check the book out of the library and read it as quickly or as closely as you wish, that’s not a bad idea, but you can get the gist of it in two pages. Here is my effort to reduce BIFF to its most helpful essential elements.

BIFF is an acronym for keeping communications with difficult people:


No more than a paragraph (2-5 brief sentences), if possible (and it’s almost always possible, even if the communication from your ex/co-parent to which you are responding droned on for pages). Make every word count.


Focus on discussing and providing facts that are relevant to the dispute. Expressing feelings usually does not help communicate briefly or clearly and risks having your ex/co-parent respond in a rambling emotional way as well.


This just means being civil and polite, and not overly so. Common courtesy 1) reduces the risk of escalating hostilities; 2) improves the odds of effective communication; and 3) depicts you as a reasonable, mature person, and thus credible, person.


Close your message in a way that conveys that the conversation is respectfully concluded, that you have addressed everything as necessary, and will not engage in further disputation (further discussion, sure, just not fighting). If you must include a question or make a request in your response, try to phrase it for a “yes or no” response. If you need a response by a specific time, state that clearly and concisely.

To make the most of the BIFF method, BIFF-style communications should also:

Avoid the “The Three A’s” because they don’t help and are thus not needed:


Criticizing and reprimanding tends to take your ex’s/co-parent’s focus off the substance of the problem. Admonishments tend to elicit defensive and recriminations, no matter how innocently and sincerely you may believe you have expressed yourself.


Offering advice tends to make you look self-righteous and judgmental. Like admonishments, giving advice tends to trigger not just a response (which you are trying to avoid), but a defensive, combative response at that.


Even a sincere apology is usually not accepted as by a high-conflict ex/co-parent with grace and class, but gets treated and cited as an admission of fault that your ex/co-parent will belabor and remind you of for months and years to come.

Incorporate EAR:


Empathy, not sympathy. “I’ve been where you are myself, and I understand how it feels” and not “I don’t feel as you do, but I can imagine how you feel.” Empathy indicates that you take your ex/co-parent seriously and respect him/her, even when you disagree.


Stating/showing you are paying attention helps to defuse the tension and to calm your ex/co-parent by showing your ex/co-parent doesn’t have to fight for your attention and can devote that energy toward more productive ends.


Expressing respect shows your ex/co-parent that both 1) he/she matters and 2) so does the dispute and getting it dealt with.

BIFF communications are good evidence for court.

Adhere to BIFF in all communications to help ensure you don’t communicate in a manner that would upset a judge, if a judge were to read your communications. When you employ BIFF and your hostile ex/co-parent does not, you benefit twice: 1) you help resolve the problem that much sooner and 2) you show yourself to be a mature, responsible, peacemaker.

The bonus of learning BIFF?: Its essential principles apply to communicating with difficult people generally, whether they be your ex or your boss or neighbor, and whether in writing or otherwise.

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277

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