What you can do about high-conflict custody exchanges

Exchanging custody can be difficult when parents resent, distrust or hate each other. Even brief encounters can spiral into screaming matches, and there are parents who simply won’t show up to an exchange in an effort to punish the other parent. There may also be legitimate concerns about a child’s safety.

If you are dealing with these difficult elements of custody exchanges, you can take steps to take some of the heat out of the situation.

Set rules in your parenting plan

In cases where a divorce is contentious or if one parent is particularly volatile, setting rules for custody exchanges in the parenting plan can be crucial. You might consider:

  • Meeting in neutral, public locations for the exchange
  • Working exchanges around school or daycare so that one parent drops the kids off and the other picks them up, which allows parents to avoid any personal interactions
  • Establishing communication procedures if a change needs to be made with the time or location of the exchange
  • Setting strict boundaries in terms of how long the exchange should take and what can be discussed at that time

Prepare for the exchange

Before a difficult exchange, take some time to try to relax. You might also want to make plans for immediately after the exchange so that your whole day does not revolve around the interaction. If you are upset with the other parent, consider writing your concerns in an email (without sending it) to let it out. If you still feel the same afterward, you can send the message.

You should also make sure your child has everything he or she needs if you are dropping off; bring something you know he or he might want if you are picking up. These are ways you can make the situation less stressful for your child.

Discuss serious issues with an attorney

If you have concerns about your or your child’s safety, or if the other parent is routinely delinquent or problematic during exchanges, you can discuss your options with an attorney. You may be able to secure a modification of your custody plan or enlist the assistance of law enforcement, depending on the severity of the issue.8