Every parenting plan must include a plan for how exchanges are to be handled. But when most parents are preparing a Parenting Plan, they don’t put much thought into the exchange.
Attorneys do. Here’s why—because exchanges are most common point of contact between the parents, they are also where the most incidents occur. We’ve seen a lot of exchanges go sideways: arguments, name-calling, fights, vandalism, and even stalking. Lest we forget, a child is present through all of this.
Exchanges can be peaceful. With a little planning, they will be. Here are some things to consider
- What is the level of conflict between the parents?
Attorneys almost invariably start with this question. The level of conflict almost always dictates what kind of plan an attorney will recommend. If these are two responsible, amicable parents, a more convenient approach can be used, such as having the receiving parent go to the other parent’s house and pick up the child when their time starts.
But if it is a volatile relationship between the parents, then we start looking at other options. A common one is we have one parent drop the child off at school at the end of the day, and the other parent picks up the child at the end of the school day. This avoids any in-person parental interaction so long as school is in session. In other cases, we recommend the exchange take place at a public location, reducing the chances of the parents having an argument.
- Has there been or might there be any violence between the two of you?
Where domestic violence has been involved or may be involved, the exchange plan must consider the other parent’s safety. That means, these exchanges should happen in the parking lot of police station. That’s about as safe a spot as can be selected, as most people aren’t going to commit crimes with a police officers nearby.
- What information, clothing, toys, homework, etc. need to be exchanged?
It’s best to know ahead of time what items needs to be exchanged. Parents can become territorial about items like clothing and toys. For example, we often hear, “I send my child over in nice clothes, and the other parent keeps those clothes and sends them back in rags.” If that is going to be an issue, plan for it.
Some parents might want a certain toy to be kept at their house. And yet, we may have a child who has a security blanket or favorite toy with which they cannot part. For school-aged children, homework becomes an issue, and they may need schoolbooks or other items exchanged. It’s best to have this organized and planned for before the exchange takes place.
- What’s the safest and quickest way to make an exchange?
When it comes to exchanges, psychologists and lawyers agree on one thing—parents should not linger. The reasons for why, though, differ.
Psychologists worry about the message it sends to a child. The child may read into it that the other parent is worried about their safety. This can make the transition needlessly traumatic for the child. A child is already adjusting to a very different world, and that message could make things even tougher.
Attorneys worry about something happening, especially when parents cannot get along. In those situations, the longer the interaction, the greater the chance for things to go wrong. And no one wants the child to see the parents arguing or worse. For that reason, attorneys want the exchanges handled quickly and amicably.
- Who should be present at exchange?
As should be clear by now—the overriding goal of exchange policies is to shield your child from being involved in parental conflict. If you have a relative or a friend who is going to cause conflict, do not bring them to the exchange. Sometimes, they feel more upset at the other parent than you do and will take the chance to say something they should not say. That may feel satisfying to them—but it is not healthy for your child.
The exchange is also not the place to introduce the other parent to your new significant other. That can be triggering.
Remember – Keep the best interests of your child in mind when designing parenting time exchanges.