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 generally going to see your ex for at least a few minutes when picking up or dropping off.
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. In less-than-optimal circumstances, they can devolve into open conflict. If things are bad, these meetings may even turn dangerous.
There are many ways to minimize the potential for friction in these situations. One Missouri town stepped in to lend a hand to frazzled parents keep things cool and amicable.
According to reports, the Osage Beach Police Department in Osage Beach, Missouri, has established a “Safe Exchange Zone.” Essentially, the police designated two parking spots in front of City Hall for parents to meet up for custody exchanges. The area is under 24-hour surveillance seven days a week. Though they recommend using good judgment, like meeting during daylight hours, the intend it to provide a safe space for custody exchanges.
The space is also open for people to use in e-commerce transactions. So if you buy or sell something online, but are uncomfortable going to a stranger’s house, or having a stranger come to yours, you can use the Safe Exchange Zone.
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, most situations don’t require police supervision, but there’s often still some level of friction. Here are some other ways to help smooth out custody exchanges.
1. Make Custody Exchanges in Public
Even if you don’t have access to a “Safe Exchange Zone,” you can still make custody exchanges in public. Many people are less likely to cause a scene if there are other people 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 are both good options. So are 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 mediator 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 there’s a new romantic interest in the picture, maybe don’t bring that person along. This depends a great deal on just how much friction there is, but a new significant other tagging along may cause more trouble than it’s worth.
3. Prepare For Custody Exchanges
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 a babysitter’s.
Schedule things right and one parent can drop the kids off while the other picks them up. 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 in these situations are key, 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, the other picks them up in the afternoon. Executed properly, this tactic often limits 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 arrangements.
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 to the mix, and it turns into a scheduling 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 offer scheduling services and co-parenting tools. You can even 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 really an 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.
It may be hard and huge hassle, but it’s worth it for the sake of the kids. And to be honest, it’s also beneficial to your own 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. Hopefully, it’ll all be over in a few minutes and everyone can keep their emotions in check. It’s better for everyone that way.
Have questions about child custody or parenting plans? Contact Goldberg Jones at our Seattle office.