Child custody and time-sharing disputes can be extremely contentious. One common flashpoint is the child custody exchange. There are a number of common sense things the parents can do to avoid escalating conflict that often builds over time with custody exchanges. There are also a number of things that parents should not do during the exchange. Here are the top ten that we came up with:
1. Do NOT arrive late to pick up your children. This may seem obvious, but what can seem like a few harmless minutes to one parent can really upset the other parent and, in turn, the children. Always leave extra time to ensure that you will get to the pick location on time.
2. Do NOT make last minute changes. This goes along with being on-time and shows a general respect for the other parent and allows everyone to know what to expect. While it may seem like a simple change to have the other parent meet you at the store, rather than their house as regularly scheduled, such a change may really disrupt the other parent‘s plans, which in turn causes the children stress.
3. Do NOT discuss other issues at exchanges. Exchanging your children can be a difficult, tension filled process for both parents and children. Do not add to that tension by bringing up other issues like child support or a request to change timesharing at the exchange, save those discussions for a telephone call or e-mail exchange with the other parent.
4. Do NOT arrive unprepared. Bring children to an exchange with all the items they will need for their time with the other parent, this includes homework, sports equipment, clothes etc. This preparation helps limit stress on children because they have what they need and limits hysterical phone calls between parents looking for a soccer uniform twenty minutes before the game is scheduled to start.
5. Do NOT bring dates or random people to exchanges. As noted above, exchanges can be really stressful for parents and children alike, especially after a recent divorce or separation. Bringing a date may upset the other parent unnecessarily and bringing any other person may distract you from focusing on your children who need your full attention.
6. Do NOT go alone where domestic violence is an issue. (the exception to Number 5). If you and your ex have a history of domestic violence or accusations of domestic violence, it may be a good idea to bring a third party with you to exchanges to act as witness, which often helps everyone behave. Think carefully about the person you bring; it needs to be someone your children are comfortable with and who will not upset your ex. And remember, this person‘s job is just to observe not to create or participate in drama between parents.
7. Do NOT discuss adult issues with the children. When your son or daughter gets in the car at an exchange without a coat in the middle of winter, this may upset you. However, do not use that time to make comments about your ex (i.e. “I guess your father is too busy to bring your coat” or “Doesn‘t your mother know how to dress you properly?”) to your children. Such concerns need to be addressed between parents outside the earshot of children. Involving children in adult issues makes them feel torn between parents and, in the long run, can cause severe emotional harm.
8. Do NOT make your children the intermediary. Parents get separated for a reason and they often want as little to do with each as possible, which is why it can be tempting to have your children give the other parent messages for you. Never do this. A child‘s job is to be a child, not to run interference between feuding parents. Not only is such message sending stressful for the children, it is a really ineffective way to communicate information and will often lead to misunderstandings that cause bigger problems.
9. Do NOT be stubborn. While both parents‘ time with their children is important and it is essential that each parent respect that, life still happens. Be flexible about rescheduling visits to accommodate family vacations and work conflicts with the other parent. Or if exchange times need to be rearranged to accommodate your children‘s music lessons, work with the other parent.
10. Do NOT bring law enforcement to exchanges. It is not the job of the police or sheriff‘s department to enforce family law orders. Aside from escalating conflict between parents, the presence of law enforcement can really upset children who often associate law enforcement with someone being in trouble or some sort of emergency. Surrounding exchanges with such negative connotations can cause children a lot of anxiety and even fear about exchanges.