Even in the most amicable situations, a divorce is likely to leave lingering traces of bitterness and resentment, perhaps even outright hostility. If you never see your ex again, maybe that’s just fine with you. That’s all well and good, but if there are minor children and shared custody involved, you’re likely going to have to see your former spouse during custody exchanges. That’s just the way the world works.
Depending on how often the kids bounce between homes, this could wind up being a regular occurrence. At best, these exchanges are likely to be awkward; at worst, we’re talking open warfare. But having a strategic plan can help keep things civil.
While it may not be ideal for either you or your ex, there are ways to handle the tense, unfriendly moments when you’re forced to confront a part of your past you’d rather not revisit. This is important not only for your own stress level and state of mind but for that of you children as well. Even if they’re divorced, no child wants to watch his or her parents fight.
With that in mind, here are a few tips and strategies to make custody exchanges go as smoothly as they can, or at least a fast as humanly possible.
Make Sure Everything Is Packed And Ready To Go
Before your ex arrives to pick up the kids for custody exchanges, make sure that everything they need for the night, or weekend, or vacation, is packed up and prepared for departure.
Are they on regular meds? Does one of the kids need an inhaler? Can your child not sleep without a security blanket or a favorite teddy bear? Do they have any relevant school work and all the appropriate books and study materials to make sure that report on the construction of the Hoover Dam is finished and turned in on time? Are the cleats ready to go for soccer practice tonight?
Whatever is important, both in a general sense and in a specific situation, pack it up, double check, maybe make one last perimeter sweep, and get it ready to go. This minimizes the amount of contact you’re compelled to have with your ex, the time it takes to make the swap, and may help ease the tension all around. Best of all, if everything is taken care of in advance, you won’t get any annoying late-night phone calls looking for an item you made sure to send.
There are also a number of different ways for you to arrange trading the kids with your ex that can diminish the face time you have to endure, preemptively squash any opportunities for conflict, and eliminate as much one-on-one interaction as possible.
Make Custody Exchanges At School
Here’s a simple, easy, effective one: make the custody exchanges at school. Use your children’s compulsory education to your advantage. One parent can drop them off in the morning, the other can pick them up in the afternoon, and no one has to see anyone they’d rather not.
As the parents aren’t both there, this can get a bit tricky as schools become increasingly aware of custody issues and the whereabouts of children outside of school hours. (Does anyone else remember just walking home from elementary school alone like it was no big deal?) Depending on the age of your kids and the degree of supervision, you may want to, or be compelled to, make arrangements with the administrators about who can and will pick them up or drop them off on particular days. Schools like to know this sort of thing.
Make Custody Exchanges At Daycare Or A Babysitter’s
This has similar benefits and drawbacks as the previous suggestion. You can drop the kids off, and your ex can pick them up, passing like proverbial ships in the night. Perhaps the children go there after school. Regardless, the end result is the same, and this may spare you any unpleasant in-person encounters. It’s a win for everybody. Depending on the size of the daycare, or if the babysitter only looks after your kids on the days in question, it may even be easier to schedule, work out the logistics, and let the appropriate parties know the plan than at school.
Make Custody Exchanges In A Neutral Public Place
There’s nothing like an audience to make people behave themselves, and where better to get one than in a public, neutral place? Pick a location for custody exchanges where both parties will be reluctant to make a scene. This can be a park, a mall, a restaurant, or a coffee shop. If things are extra contentious, you can even opt to make the swap at a police station or a supervised visitation center, just in case you need a little extra incentive to play nice.
Bring A Third Party Along For The Swap
Just as people may be less likely to cause a ruckus in public, they may be on better behavior if there is someone he or she knows along for the ride. Perhaps you may want to consider bringing a mutual acquaintance, ideally someone both parties know and trust, like a friend who has managed to keep ties with both of you.
This can help put everyone at ease and smooth over what little time you have to spend together. And if things are really bad, it never hurts to have a witness, maybe one taking video with their phone. Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that point, because then there are probably much larger issues with which to contend.
On the other side of this situation, if there’s a new spouse or significant other in the picture, maybe don’t bring them. That in itself might incur bad feelings and invite trouble where none is needed.
You may never want to see or speak to your ex again, but unfortunately for you, if there are kids in the picture, that’s not likely to happen. Sure, you can communicate through lawyers and mediators, and enlist all manner of third parties to run interference—there may even be lots of yelling and swear words—but there will probably be at least some level of contact during custody exchanges. So, suck it up and deal.
Even with that reality, there are avenues available to make moments like exchanging custody as painless as possible for everyone. Have a plan, make arrangements, be efficient, let your kids know what’s going on, and, most important, keep things civil. If not for your own stress level and well-being, do it for your children. They can see and feel your tension and hostility, and if you can prevent your emotions from running wild, that’s only going to benefit them and be healthier for all of you.