Custody exchanges following divorce are often tough. No matter how bitter and hostile the process of ending your marriage was, if you have kids, you’re going to see your ex for at least a few minutes when picking up or dropping off.
These tend to be difficult moments full of swirling emotions. All too often they erupt in conflict. It’s important to do what you can to minimize the fighting, for everyone’s sanity, but most importantly, for your kids.
How To Deal With Tense Custody Exchanges
Depending on how the parenting plan shakes out, you may potentially encounter your ex a few times a week. In the best of times, these custody exchanges are awkward. But there are things you can do to minimize the potential for friction.
Here are some other ways to help smooth out custody exchanges.
1. Make Exchanges in Public
Many people are less likely to cause a scene if there are other folks around. You can use this to your advantage.
Select a neutral spot where your ex is less likely to start a fight—though admittedly, some people will fight anywhere. A centrally located park or mall both offer good options. So do restaurants, coffee shops, and even supermarket parking lots.
2. Bring A Witness
Just like some people are reluctant to cause a stir in public, they may also behave better with a witness. Especially if it’s someone they know.
Consider bringing a mutual acquaintance along for the custody exchange. A trusted friend who remains connected to both of you is often ideal.
A third party may help smooth things out or just speed things along. And if the situation does turn dangerous, it never hurts to have someone there to see it all. Though let’s hope things aren’t that far gone.
One caveat: If you have a new romantic interest in the picture, maybe don’t bring that person. This depends a great deal on just how much animosity there is, but a new significant other tagging along may cause more trouble than it’s worth.
If you and your ex can’t be in the same room without fighting, don’t prolong the amount of time you have to spend together. Get everything together ahead of time. Preparing in advance makes things go faster and can smooth over potential rough spots.
Whether for a quick overnight or a week-long vacation, make sure clothes, medications, school books, and anything else the kids need is ready to go. If they can’t live without it, pack it up.
This also cuts down the chances of a late-night call or visit from your ex. And if you can send the kids right out the door, no one has to stand around waiting while you track down a lucky pair of pajamas.
4. Custody Exchanges At Daycare
Sometimes the best option is not to see your ex at all, and there are ways to accomplish this.
One practical strategy many parents employ is to make custody exchanges at daycare or with a babysitter.
Schedule things right and your ex drops the kids off and you pick them up. Or vice versa. Using child care as a kind of weigh station often cuts down on the fact time you have to endure with your ex.
Communication and clear scheduling are key in these situations, but this approach often helps limit friction, contact, and conflict.
5. Custody Exchanges At School
Just like using daycare to trade off, you can use school to assist with custody exchanges.
The concept is essentially the same as above: one parent drops the kids off in the morning, while the other picks them up in the afternoon.
Executed properly, exchanges at school often limit face-to-face time with your former spouse.
Again, like with child care, this takes communication. Not only do you and your ex have to be clear on the schedule, but this is the type of arrangement schools like to know. It’s less of an issue with teens and older kids, but administrators generally want to be aware of these plans.
6. Alternate Forms Of Communication
Visitation, overnight stays, and vacations are complicated enough. Add soccer practice, after-school robot club, and the myriad other activities kids participate in into the mix, and it turns into a logistical nightmare.
No matter how much you’d rather not, if you have kids, you and your ex have to have at least some level of communication. Especially when your situation involves custody exchanges.
Fortunately for many parents in this situation, modern technology presents alternate means of staying in touch. You can email, text, or use instant messenger. Online tools like Our Family Wizard and others offer scheduling services and co-parenting help.
You can download apps on your smartphone. If you have friends or family members willing to help out and run messages back and forth, that’s also a possibility.
After divorce, you may never want to see your ex again. If it’s just you, that’s fine. However, if you have kids, that’s not a realistic option. Custody exchanges are likely to be a fact of life. But there are ways to cut down on conflict and friction in these situations.
Related Reading: What Does a Parenting Plan Include?
Safe Exchange Zones
In less-than-optimal circumstances, custody exchanges can devolve into open conflict. If things are bad, these meetings may even turn dangerous.
More and more cities have started providing “Safe Exchange Zones.” Essentially, the police designate an area, be it parking spots or the lobby of a police station for strangers to meet up and exchange money or goods from websites like Craiglist. This can also be used for custody exchanges.
Related Reading: Seattle Police Department Offers Safe Havens in Precinct Lobbies
In Osage Beach, Missouri, they established a “Safe Exchange Zone” specifically for child custody exchanges. Essentially, the police designated two parking spots in front of City Hall for parents to meet up.
The area is under 24-hour surveillance seven days a week. Though they still recommend using good judgment, like meeting during daylight hours, they intend to provide a safe space for custody exchanges.
Under the watchful eye of law enforcement, parents are less likely to cause a scene or do anything illegal. This is one way to keep things civil and ensure everyone plays nice.
Hopefully, your situation doesn’t require police supervision, but there’s often still some level of friction.
It may be a hard and a huge hassle, but it’s worth it for the sake of the kids. And to be honest, it’s also beneficial for your peace of mind and well-being.
Have a plan in advance, be as efficient as possible, and make sure to communicate as clearly as you can. Do it right and it’ll all be over in a few minutes and everyone can keep their emotions in check. It’s better for everyone that way.
Related Reading: Guardian Ad Litem: What You Need to Know