How to Handle Difficult Child Exchanges
The best divorces don’t need lawyers. I may have said it before on here, and I will say it again. The best way for a marriage to end (if there is such a thing) is that both people agree on the division of property and parenting time. Then they submit that to the court, the court stamps it, and they are on their way. This way hopefully the adults can stay friends, and it puts the least stress on the children.
Sadly, this is not always the case. Sometimes parents use the children as pawns against the other parent. They will tell the children hurtful things about the other parent, or they will deliberately be late or early to a drop off. One of the most frustrating and traumatic things is when the parents fight in front of the children at an exchange. Think of how scary that must be! They are already stressed out because they don’t understand why they’re not a family anymore, and then the parents add to it by causing a scene. No wonder so many children scream and cry at exchanges.
If this is your situation, and you want it to stop, don’t worry. There are many things that you can do, both large and small, to make it go smoother.
Most people want to rush into the most drastic measures. This can mean keeping the child away from the other parent or getting a restraining order. This is NOT the way to go. Always try to work things out civilly before going to drastic measures. (Please note, though, that if your life or health are being seriously threatened by someone who has abused you before, you need to contact an attorney or women’s shelter immediately. The cycle of domestic violence is much more than these simple problems.) You can start off with small things first. If you are currently exchanging at a home, try to move it to a public location. If there is a park near your home where the kids like to play that is a good option. Most people behave much better when they are at a place that others can see them. Along the same lines, you can always have someone present with you to be a witness in case things get out of hand. That witness tends to make people behave.
If that doesn’t work, try moving to a police station. I am willing to bet that every police station in the country does child exchanges. You can’t leave your children there, but you can stand in the lobby and wait for the other person to come in. This way there is an even better witness present—an officer. They often have surveillance cameras in the lobby as well. I have used these videos more than once in trial to prove that the other party starts the fights and is dangerous. If there is a need the officers can also walk you out to your car.
I have had clients that couldn’t even do a police station. If that is the case, try to find somewhere that is a supervised exchange location. Here in Denver it is called the Karlis Center. The parent who is dropping off the children comes at drop off time. The center has great staff, play areas, and a play ground outside. The parent who is leaving can tell the kids goodbye and go. Then the parent who is picking up the kids comes 15 minutes later and takes them home. That way the parents don’t even have to be in the same parking lot. This often fixes the problem, and exchanges can be peaceful again.
Only if you are seriously being threatened should you go get a restraining order. If you just don’t like to see the other person, or you think they’re just talking, then you should not try. Restraining orders will only be granted for the long term if the other person is currently threatening your health or your life, and you have some way to prove it. Threatening your property, or just cursing at you, is not enough. Unless you are really in danger, usually they only serve to make the situation worse. The other person gets mad at you and then refuses to communicate. The only way to get through the whole process is by open communication between you, denying the other parent time and contact with the child unnecessarily escalates the conflict. Keep calm for the sake of your children and take the least drastic measures first.
Do whatever you can to help make the divorce as easy and smooth on your children as possible.