Making Child Custody Exchanges Work for Everyone

After a child custody matter is settled and a parenting time plan is put in place, for many parents, this is where the hard work of co-parenting truly begins. If you and your former spouse or partner still aren’t on the same page, or there is still animosity between the two of you, one place where this tension often becomes a disaster waiting to happen is during child custody exchanges. Your ex-spouse may be running late, or the pick up time suddenly doesn’t work with your schedule, your child is clingy, or just the sight of this person still makes your blood boil — and the feeling is mutual. How do you get around these type of issues to make child custody drop offs and pick up more peaceful and safe for everyone? Here are four tried-and-true tips:

Agree to Common Courtesy: Either parent may be late for pick up or drop off for the innocuous reason of being stuck in traffic, or have a legitimate emergency that prevents them from reaching the drop off/pick up location on time. As soon as you know making it on time will be an issue, send the other parent a text or email, briefly informing them of the situation and providing an estimated time of arrival. Tempers tend to flare more easily when there is a lack of communication.

Understand, too, that part of common courtesy is learning from your mistakes. If you were stuck in Friday night traffic trying to make your 5 pm pick up time, next week, leave earlier to get to your destination. If you had thought 5 pm Friday would be fine when you agreed to the parenting time plan, but traffic and an inflexible time when you can leave work are making you late almost every week, be honest with the child’s other parent about the situation. You may be able to easily come to a modified agreement that shifts the time frame for Friday pick to an hour or two later, saving all of you a lot of grief.

Likewise, if the other parent is constantly late or doesn’t show up at all, keep track of these instances. This is information that you can use if you decide to file a motion to formally modify your NJ child custody agreement.

Pick a Pick Up/Drop Off Location that’s Good for Your Child: If your child is in daycare, using that place as the exchange spot often works for parents of very young children and comes with the added bonus of the two of you not necessarily needing to see one another. The same goes for school age kids. Is it possible for your child to take a different bus home from school on Fridays and then take the bus to school on Monday mornings (or whatever day is the custody switch)? Again, for parents who may still need some time to “cool off” away from each other, this kind of “no contact” arrangement can help for the short term.

Other places? Try to pick locations where you know your child can have a snack, use the bathroom, and feel calm and secure before pick up. This can include the mall, the public library, or a neutral friend or relative’s house. In some high-conflict cases, drop offs and pick ups for supervised visits may be required and will take place in an assigned location. For your child’s sake, keep good-byes loving, positive, and brief.

Have a Third Party Present: No matter where the pick up/drop off takes place, if it involves the two of you being in the same place at the same time, and there is still animosity between the two of you, it’s a good idea to have a third party present as a witness or simply a presence to keep the two of you on your best behavior.

Some families even decide to do pick ups and drop offs at the police station in order to keep things civil. Whatever plan you come up with now, understand that the bigger plan to keep an eye on is what the two of you can to improve your co-parenting strategy in the months and years to come.

What solutions have you come up with for the child custody exchange dilemma?