Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Navigating the Troubled Waters of Parenting Time Exchanges after Divorce

The waters around exchanging the children for parenting time can be muddy and turbulent. When parents are able to navigate these waters successfully, the children thrive and learn valuable lessons about handling difficult situations.

Parents who are able to focus on what's best for the children find ways to facilitate parenting time exchanges cordially. Ideally, whichever parent is receiving the children, at the beginning or end of parenting time, is able to come to the front door of the other parent's home to pick up the children and their things.

When the parents maintain a friendly, or at least civil, relationship with each other, they approach these parenting time exchanges as they would with a friend or co-worker. They ring the doorbell or knock, wait for the door to be answered, only enter the house if invited, and limit conversation to noncontroversial subjects. The exchanges will happen without drama and the children will benefit.

When the parents are not able to keep their conflict away from the children during parenting exchanges, it is best for exchanges occur without parent contact. For these parents, it will often work for the exchanges to take place at school or daycare as much as possible. Your parenting plan might say: Parenting time will begin on ____ afternoon with pick-up from school or daycare, and will end on ____ when the children are dropped off at school or daycare. A specific time or range of times can be added if necessary. These times are natural breaks in the children's day and they are not likely to view this kind of exchange as an indication that their parents are not able to be nice to each other. The parents won't have contact with each other, but the children will not view the lack of contact as out of the ordinary.

Another exchange mechanism that eliminates contact between the parents is for the "picking up" or dropping off" parent to park at the street, driveway, or parking lot of the other parent's home and let the children walk from the home to the car or vice-versa. A simple phone call can let the other parent know they are there. I don't like this one as well as the pick-up or drop off at school or daycare because it is more evident to the children that their parents aren't able to get along.

Many high conflict parents do their parenting time exchanges at a public place like a fast food restaurant. I'm sure you've seen them. They are not hard to spot. Everyone looks uncomfortable, especially the children. Some even opt for exchanges in the parking lot of the police station. If it's at all possible, please find another solution to parenting time exchanges other than using a restaurant or police station parking lot. These exchanges are very hard on the children and provide them with a poor model for conflict resolution skills.

When thinking about how to handle parenting time exchanges between parents, keep in mind that your solution might be sending unintended messages to your children. The more natural the setting for these exchanges, the happier your children will be.

© 2009, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center,

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