Tips for Handling Hostile Custodial Exchanges

Children involved in a divorce regularly move between their parents’ homes.  The children (and parents) have lots to think about before each custodial exchange, for example: Does each child have all the clothes he or she needs?  Does each child have his or her medication?  Is the school work in tow?  What about any sports equipment which might be needed?  Has the birthday gift been purchased and brought with the child for the birthday party over the weekend?  Is the favorite blanket packed?

Horrific Situation

All of these questions (and more) are part of each custodial exchange, which is stressful for the children and the parents.  Hopefully over time, these questions lessen as each home is able to duplicate many of the children’s needs.  Now, layer on top of these logistics, hostile parents who argue with each other, refuse to acknowledge the other, accuse each other or just generally shoot that look of disapproval to each other, all in front of the children at the custodial exchange – which can occur several times each and every week.  This situation is horrific for the children.  It reminds them each time that their parents have strong dislike – even hatred – for each other.

Minimizing Hostility

Because children are the innocent victims of divorce, especially when parents clearly cannot see how their childish behavior impacts their children, it is left to the lawyers and judges to create custody orders which lessen the likelihood that the children must witness the poor behavior of their parents.  Such orders can include one or more of the following requirements in an attempt to minimize hostility at custodial exchanges. While none of them is ideal, they are the best that can be done given that the parents themselves are unable to control their own behaviors.

  1. Exchange the children at school or day care.  Then the parents do not even have to see each other.
  2. Exchange the children at a public place (such as a restaurant, coffee shop, library, or a security desk at a mall) where parents will be reluctant to make a scene.
  3. Have a third party attend the custodial exchange.  People tend to be on better behavior when they know others are present.
  4. Pick up the children from their babysitter or nanny without the other parent present.
  5. Make a video recording of any custodial exchange conducted in public (i.e., not inside someone’s home).  It is best to do this in a way that the children do not know the recording is taking place.   This is typically not necessary if the exchange occurs in a very public location where people would rarely act out.
  6. Exchange at a supervised visitation center.  There is an expense to doing this, but the location is safe and often observed by a neutral third party.
  7. Exchange inside a police station.  This is a safe location where the desk officer can document that the exchange occurred (or didn’t due to a no-show by one parent).  However, most professionals agree the police station is the least desirable location because children are often frightened and fear that one or both parents – or worse, they themselves – are in trouble with the law.

Keeping Peace

Custodial exchanges occur as often as three or four times per week.  The exchange itself is often stressful and full of anxiety for the children.  If parents are unable to act civil during a five-minute exchange, then they must consider one of the alternatives suggested above to keep the peace for the sake of the children.