If you have kids, you and your ex are going to come face to face during custody exchanges. How often this happens depends on the custody agreement, parenting plan, and level of visitation. It may be a couple of times a week, once a month, or around major holidays. But it’s going to happen.
In the best of times, custody exchanges will probably still be a little awkward. In more combative circumstances, it helps to have a strategy in place to keep things civil. There are ways to cut down the amount of face time and limit friction. It may never be easy or ideal, but it helps with stress and peace of mind, for both the parents and the children.
Here are some strategies to help smooth out custody exchanges.
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1. Coordinate Drop Off/Pick Up
In contentious situations, the more you see your ex, the more potential there is for friction and conflict. Sometimes it’s simply best not to see each other if you can avoid it.
One common approach to a civil custody exchange is to make the switch at a babysitter/friend’s house, daycare, or school. Clear communication about who is picking up the kids and when is key to helping limit contact and potential fights.
Because there are other people involved, you may encounter scheduling hurdles. You’ll need to inform the babysitter, friend, other parents, or school staff beforehand.
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2. Exchange In Public
Many people want to avoid causing a scene in public, so if you and your ex are prone to fighting, this may be the option for you. In some situations, nowhere is off-limits, but being exposed often encourages both parties to be on their best behavior.
Choose a neutral, centrally located spot. A park, the mall, a restaurant, or a coffee shop where you know the regulars are all options. Extreme cases may call for supervised visitation centers or even a police station.
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3. Third-Party Witness
Another strategy to smooth over problematic custody exchanges is bringing along a third party. A mutual friend or even an authority figure can help keep the peace, especially if it’s someone who knows both parents. This approach often serves to calm down heated emotions.
Please note, it’s important to give some thought to whom you choose as a witness. A new spouse or significant other may have a negative impact. Try to choose a neutral witness who wants to keep things from getting heated.
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4. Communication Via Alternate Means
Visitation, overnights, and custody exchanges often become logistical tangles. Coordinating the endless childhood activities requires regular communication between parents. If this is a problem area for you, there are alternatives to communicating directly with the other parent.
In the past, many have used friends, family members, or even lawyers and mediators as their go-betweens. Thanks to modern technology, you have more outlets than ever before. Email, texting, instant messaging, and other online options exist to avoid direct confrontations. Websites like Our Family Wizard provide shared scheduling services and online tools for co-parenting. There are even numerous smartphone apps for tracking parenting schedules and children’s activities.
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Preparation is key in custody exchanges. Take the time to gather everything the kids need for this particular stay. Whether a quick overnight or a two-week vacation, make sure to gather the essentials. Think about what they can’t live without and send it with them.
Some common things to think about when packing:
- Sleep Materials (i.e. stuffed animals or blankets)
- After-School Activity Supplies (i.e. sports gear, club supplies, instruments)
Custody exchanges can be tough, but it’s something you have to deal with. For the sake of the kids, it’s important to try to make these encounters as smooth and painless as possible. Have a plan, be efficient, and keep your emotions in check for a few minutes. Hopefully, that’s all you’ll need.
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Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of an earlier post and has been revamped for accuracy and comprehensiveness.