Child Custody Exchange

Child custody arrangements are among the most emotional and contentious negotiations a person can enter into. Even divorcing parties that are able to resolve financial or other serious issues amicably sometimes find that the discussion about child custody and visitation can become a bone of contention. Most child custody arrangements include a custody and visitation schedule that outlines the time, place, and manner for custody exchanges, but sometimes even this isn't enough.

The actual child custody exchange, or "swap," occurs each time a child goes from the physical custody of one parent to the other. In the family law context, custody exchanges fall under the umbrella of "visitation rights" based on the premise that both parents are entitled to spend time with their child(ren), regardless of certain other child custody problems, such as non-payment of child support and other matters.

Because of the nature of child custody, however, these transitions from one parent to another may become complicated. The following provides an overview of the child custody exchange process and how to make it work for you.

Managing Disagreements

Custody exchanges generally occur systematically each day among thousands of families, often with little or no major issues. However, disagreements do arise -- typically on topics related to school, child rearing, and child support -- and emotions run high, especially among parents who simply can't agree or who may hold a grudges.

When this happens, the child's environment may become hostile, unpleasant, and even physically and emotionally damaging (for example, with pushing, hitting, or name calling in front of the kids).

Child Custody Exchanges Gone Wrong

There have been multiple examples of child custody exchanges ending badly, often in tragedy. For instance, a father in Memphis was shot and killed during a custody swap by his ex-wife's fiance, with the couple's 4-year-old daughter nearby. A man in Bellingham Washington was charged with numerous assault charges when, after an argument with his child's mother, he tried to pull her from the car and sprayed her friend (a passenger in the car) with pepper spray.

These cases demonstrate the legal challenges that may arise during these highly emotional exchanges. While law enforcement may be called to help prevent or stop harmful behavior, particularly where a child is involved, they're typically limited in child custody matters to simply documenting what is occurring, or what has already occurred, for later court review.

Tips for an Effective Child Custody Exchange

Violence or disagreement among parents during a child custody exchange is never in the "best interest of the child," and should therefore be avoided both to protect the child and the parents' interests. After all, one or both parents could risk the loss or reduction of their custody rights where violence or other problems arise during custody exchanges.

Don't let this happen to you. Here's a list of five tips to help make your child custody exchange a smooth process.

  1. Choose a safe, public location. When an exchange happens in a public place (like your child's school or day care or a location near a police station), there's less risk of altercations and the presence of other people also can help to dial down tensions.

  2. Bring a neutral third party with you. Having someone who's non-partisan when it comes to any past disputes with your child's other parent also helps to tamp down tensions while providing you with a more reliable witness in case things do go haywire. This could be a co-worker that you carpool with or perhaps even a school official.

  3. Arrange for someone else to make the exchange. If the emotions are still running high between you and your ex to the point where just being near them will cause an argument, then consider having a friend or family member meet with the child to bring them to your car. If you're considering this approach, it's likely something that you'll need to work out in your custody arrangements ahead of time.

  4. Show up on time. One of the best ways to trigger an altercation is by causing an inconvenience or having a seemingly small argument over being a few minutes late. When emotions are involved, small disputes can quickly escalate and lead to a rehashing of past problems.

  5. Take the high road. If you start to see an argument percolating, be the calm, positive parent; set a good example for your child and for the other parent. Agree to disagree or ask for the other parent to lay out their concerns in an email or some other writing. This will not only help both sides to articulate their concerns, but people also tend to be less hostile when writing something that could be seen by a court down the road. If needed, you can always defer the argument to your attorneys to work on.

Questions About Child Custody Exchange? Contact an Attorney

As discussed above, child custody is a difficult subject to negotiate and even after an agreement is reached, the child custody exchange can still be complicated. If you're dealing with complicated child custody issues, it's best to contact an experienced child custody lawyer, who can help you deal with any legal implications presented by your situation.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified child custody attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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