Is it possible to have child friendly exchanges? When parents have shared custody of children, there need to be exchanges of those children at agreed times. Some call it the handover or swap and how and where it’s done is usually decided by the parents. Although children don’t always appreciate having to divide their time between two homes, there are ways to help them cope. One of those is having child friendly custody exchanges.
Child friendly exchanges are not always the norm. Unfortunately the friendliness of the children is not in question here, but that of the adults involved. Especially at the beginning of a divorce or separation, emotions can run really high between the separating couple. If the couple are in the midst of ‘fighting’ one another for custody then things can get really ugly very quickly. Highly volatile custody cases can even turn deadly. Experts say that after a contentious divorce or separation, the moment when a parent gives up a child or children to the custody of another can be particularly fraught with dangers.
High Conflict Handovers
In the last few years there have been many violent acts that have occurred where the hand-over of a child was supposed to take place. In 2012 in South Florida, in just the space of a few weeks there were two separate incidents that happened in public places selected for the hand-over of a child from one parent to the other. One was a murder-suicide and the other was of a woman who was deliberately set on fire by an ex-partner. Both were triggered by child custody disputes.
“Emotions are always raw in a custody dispute,” said S. Andrew Foster, who practices family law in Cooper City, Florida. “You can’t anticipate everything a person will do, even if you have known them for decades. My advice is to be vigilant. And get the police involved if there is a hint of trouble. It is better to be embarrassed than injured.”
On Prince Edward Island in Canada, a new program has been developed to facilitate custody exchanges between parents where face-to-face contact between the two might otherwise be a source of family conflict. Various locations have been organised to allow one parent to drop off their child and for the child to be supervised until the other parent picks them up. Premier Wade MacLauchlan who announced the move says, “When children are moving from one parent to another is a common occasion when there is strife or tension in the family relationship. So providing this site … with a child-friendly approach enables the child, which is really the first concern here, to have a better chance of not being a party to that kind of strife.”
This has come about after the inquest into the death of 4 year old Nash Campbell and his mother Patricia Hennessey. The jury came back with 15 recommendations. The new exchange program is in response to one of those recommendations. The murder-suicide of Nash and his mother was directly related to the highly volatile child custody battle she’d been engaged in with Nash’s father.
Family violence expert Peter Jaffe testified, saying homicides in these cases are often preventable and that family members and others see a child at risk, but don’t know what to do. He also said Nash’s parents were in an “all-out war” and “shouldn’t have been within a mile of each other.” Jaffe said after four years of conflict, and with tensions escalating, someone should have stepped up to get the families together to try to work out a solution.
Developing Child Friendly Exchanges
For many couples there is a degree of conflict but they are not at the point of needing to have supervised or shielded exchanges. How can parents make their exchanges as child friendly as possible? Here are some tips to help with developing child friendly exchanges.
- Choose a child friendly venue
A fast food restaurant might be okay sometimes, but you need to be careful about what message it might be sending your children. Be flexible with your ex-partner in negotiating a mutually agreeable and child-friendly venue – it might be that your kids love Macca’s and it’s a good place to do a handover. Maybe it could be a park that the kids love or you could take turns meeting at a different grandparent’s house. Think about what is beneficial and helpful for your children. A judge in NSW recently had to rule on an exchange point because neither parent would budge. The court ruled all changeovers would happen at school but in holidays or non-school times changeovers would be at the front counter of Woolworths Supermarket except when the supermarket was closed, when the handover of the children would relocate to the local McDonald’s.
2. Be courteous with the time
This is such a great thing to teach your children anyway. Being late or having to rush is going to cause tension for your children and at the exchange with your ex. Don’t use time as a weapon of power – it’s not cool.
3. Prepare your children
Help them to be ready physically and emotionally for the handover by giving them all the details they need to do that well. Tell them where you’re going and at what time and any special things they may need for this exchange. For example, if your ex-partner wants to take the kids to the beach then make sure they have the opportunity to grab their boogie boards if they’re stored at your place. Don’t be petty and cause angst by ‘neglecting’ to pass that information on just to spite the other parent.
4. Guard your tongue
Don’t bad mouth your ex in front of the children. Anytime. They need to be free to have a relationship with the other parent unhindered by the anger you may still harbour. It only raises the tension of an exchange if you do it during a handover and sets them up for a visit that has been shadowed by any nasty comments you’ve let fly. Children scar easily and they usually get caught in the crossfire or are interrogated later by parents who cannot control their tongues.
5. Be welcoming
There are two things to think about here.
Don’t seem too excited when you hand over the children to your ex in anticipation of a child-free week. No need to be untruthful about looking forward to some adult time, but don’t act like you can’t wait to get rid of them. Don’t let your hostility for your ex ruin the greeting your children are hoping to have from you. Hard stares and harsh words are not welcoming. Be differentiated and focus instead on your kids. Conveying your love for them will help to make these truly child friendly exchanges.
We know that the custody of children is always a tough issue for divorcing couples to think about. We always advocate for the best interests of the child, and therefore for child friendly exchanges where possible.
At Divorce Lawyers Brisbane we always aim to assist couples in divorcing with the least conflict possible. To speak to one of our experienced family lawyers please contact us today. We offer a free, 10-minute phone consultation.