How to Keep Child Custody Exchanges Civil
Be Ready to Go at the Scheduled Time
If you have to be at the exchange site at 5:00 P.M., don’t wait until 4:45 P.M. to start packing up your child’s clothes, toys, and school supplies. When exchanges occur at the parent’s home, make sure that the child’s bags are completely packed and set by the door in advance of the pickup time.
Plan Custody Exchanges in a Public Place
While it may feel more convenient to have exchanges happen at the parent’s home, this may make one or both parents feel more comfortable picking a fight. If you pick a neutral public place for exchanges, both parties are less likely to make a scene. Choose a place that is conveniently located for both parties and that has plenty of parking. Doing so encourages both parents to keep exchanges quick, amicable, and drama-free.
Consider Doing Pickups at School or Daycare
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just cannot avoid fights with your co-parent. If you and your ex-partner are like water and oil when you interact, it might be best to choose an exchange location that limits your face-to-face time. If your children attend school or daycare, consider doing child custody exchanges there. The parent ending their parenting time can drop the child off at school, and the parent beginning their parenting time can pick them up at the end of the day. This eliminates the need for any direct contact.
Avoid Last Minute Changes
Emergencies happen, and last-minute changes cannot always be avoided. However, whenever possible, try to limit last minute changes to your drop-off time and location. Unexpected changes can stress out both parties and increase the likelihood of a fight.
Don’t Use Exchanges as a Time to Discuss Legal Matters
The goal of a civil custody exchange is to make it as boring and quick as possible. You don’t want to create an environment where your ex-spouse is always wondering which controversial topic you’ll bring up at the next exchange. Because of this, do not communicate anything other than child-related information during exchanges.
Developing a Schedule That Suits Your Family
In most situations, it’s in your best interest to agree upon a schedule with your co-parent, rather than allowing the judge to make the final call. While negotiating with a co-parent can be challenging, leaving the final choice up to the judge takes away your role in the decision-making process. Even if you and the co-parent dislike the final ruling, you must abide by it. When both parties compromise, they at least retain some control over the final outcome.
In the immediate aftermath of deciding to divorce, your first instinct may be to fight for full or primary custody. After all, if you’ve had unlimited access to your child for their whole life, giving up half of your time seems incredibly painful. However, discuss your options with your lawyer. If your co-parent is an involved, caring parent, is it really in your child’s best interest to limit contact? If not, consider swallowing your pride and starting with a 50/50 schedule. Just use it as a starting point. You can adjust as needed to accommodate school schedules, work schedules, after school activities, and other obligations.
Be willing to compromise. Remember that you and your ex-partner are both in a painful and difficult position. You may both say things you don’t mean out of fear of losing time with your child. If you can both sit down with your attorneys and come to a final agreement that way, you can limit damage to your co-parenting relationship and create a schedule that best meets your child’s needs.
How to Deal with Retaliatory Behaviors in Co-parenting
Know Your Boundaries
During a calm period, decide what your boundaries are and how you will enforce them. You can also ask your attorney about how to protect your peace through legal means. For example, if your co-parent calls you at all hours of the day and night to harass you, you might tell them you are only willing to communicate through a co-parenting app unless it is an emergency. If they attack you for dating again, you might tell them that you will only speak with them regarding your children and hang up. Know what you will and will not tolerate.
Limit the Information You Provide
This technique is known as “gray rocking”, and it can be very helpful when dealing with a high-conflict co-parent or a person with narcissistic tendencies. It involves providing as little information as you can and not responding to their attempts to start a fight. Obviously, you must still share information about your children, but you can respond to questions about your personal life and unrelated matters with vague or uninteresting answers.
Distance Yourself Emotionally
Try to avoid taking anything they say about you personally. What your co-parent says about you says more about them than it does about you. Consider going to therapy or reading self-help books to learn tips to protect yourself from insults and personal attacks.
Meet in Public
If your co-parent thrives on insulting you and wearing you down, make it harder for them to do so. Meet for drop-offs and pickups in a public place, or even better, center it on school. For example, on a day that the child switches homes, have the first parent drop the child off at school. The second parent’s time begins when they pick the child up from school. This limits direct interaction.
Do Not Talk to Your Children About the Other Parent’s Behavior
This is so important for your relationship with your children. No matter how stressed you are, never let your child hear you venting about their other parent. Not only can it damage your relationship with your kids, but it can also be used against you in court.
When your co-parent lashes out at you, tries to deny your parenting time, or otherwise retaliates against you, take note of it. Send the messages or evidence to your attorney and notify them of any troubling behavior. There are consequences for constantly attacking your co-parent, and your attorney can help you build a case against the person hurting you.