In an ideal divorce or separation situation involving children, both parents work together to develop and follow a parenting plan. Even though the parents might not get along, they often try to put their differences aside to make custody exchange stress-free for their child. In some cases, however, conflicts between parents occur. When these conflicts are tense, loud, or otherwise stressful not only for the parents but also for the child, setting and following custody exchange ground rules can help.
Setting Custody Exchange Expectations
If you can speak to your ex when both of you are calm, you might be able to set some expectations for how custody transfers will occur. Realize that you will be handing off or receiving physical custody of your child regularly, perhaps several times each week, until your child is old enough to handle his or her own transportation.
Even though it may be difficult to maintain an amicable relationship, being able to do so for the sake of your child can make the coming years much more accessible. For parents who find it hard to avoid arguing, perhaps the two of you can agree that drop-offs and pick-ups are not the right time to have discussions.
You might even decide not to speak at all during these times. You can text each other pertinent details about your child (whether your young child has already had his nap, for example, or a note that your school-aged child has an extra math assignment due the next day and needs to work on it) and smile and say, “have a nice time!” to your child at drop-offs.
Save conversations for when your child is not there. Better yet, if things are that tense, save them for text and email. If there are issues relating to custody going through the court, there is no need to discuss them outside of the mediator’s office verbally or courtroom.
Respecting Your Child’s Relationship with the Other Parent
No matter how much animosity is between you and your ex, if he or she is a fit, caring parent, it is important to encourage your child to have a good relationship with them. It is generally accepted that children are better off when they can spend time cultivating and maintaining a relationship with both parents in almost all cases.
For this reason, it is important not to let your negative feelings toward your ex affect how your child sees him or her. Talk to your son or daughter about the fun things they have done with their mom or dad. If their other parent cannot pick them up on time or there is some further disappointment, refrain from saying anything negative about it.
Say, “Dad is going to be a bit late today,” without any commentary about his lack of time management skills or poor priority-setting practices. This will not only help keep custody exchange stress-free for your child but will also help you avoid creating parental alienation between your child and his or her other parent.
Remember, your child is made up of features from both you and his or her other parent. When you denigrate that other parent, your child will likely feel a wide range of conflicting emotions. Do not put your child in this position. It is also helpful to remember that badmouthing your child’s other parent to your child can cause a judge to grant the other parent more parenting time or change the custody situation because it is seen as a negative behavior.
Keeping Yourself Safe
If you and your ex are unable to conduct civil custody exchange despite your best efforts, then it is time to set up a different system. Perhaps it will no longer work for you to drop off your child at your ex’s home and vice versa. Choosing a neutral location can help take some of the pressure off both parents. Is there a fast food restaurant or a parking lot that you can go to hand off your child?
If so, that might be an option. Try to pick a place with plenty of people around, as everyone tends to be on their best behavior when strangers can observe them. Or you might arrange your schedules to make a no-contact drop-off possible. Maybe you will drop off your child at school or daycare, and your ex will pick them up. This eliminates stressful arguing since you will not both be at the same place at the same time.
In some cases, you might have serious concerns about your safety. Custody exchange at a police station can ensure that everyone stays safe during these potentially stressful times. Many police stations have a monitored area that is under camera surveillance where you can exchange your child. If these parking spots are not marked, call the station, and ask. Or you can even wait for your ex inside the police station and have the child transferred there.
Keeping Your Child Safe
Of course, if you are worried about your own safety to the point where you need a police presence to avoid physical abuse from your ex, then it is possible that you also are worried about your child’s safety. Are there any indications that your child is also at risk for abuse?
In this case, you may need to ask the court to change the custody orders. It might be that he or she will require supervised visitation for some time until they can demonstrate that they are not a danger to your shared child. In severe cases, a parent might even be denied custody altogether.
If you believe there is an immediate threat to your child’s safety, then contact the local authorities and file an emergency appeal; the court can, at its discretion, grant a temporary custody order if a child is in danger. You do not have to face custody on your own.
Contact National Family Solutions to determine if we can help you navigate the court system as you represent your child’s and your own best interests. Even if you do not have funds available for a private attorney, some options can help you keep your child safe. Contact us today.