By: Curtis Wiberg
In a Colorado custody case, whether it’s a divorce or allocation of parental rights case, one of the details people often overlook in their parenting plan or orders is how to handle the parenting time exchanges of the minor children from one parent to the other. Though one might think that parents will have the ability to figure out transferring the children from one to another on their own, the reality is that without detailed language governing exchanges, ambiguity and confusion can make that which should be simple a source of debate and contention. Because of this, it is normal for Denver custody attorneys to build in specific language regarding how and when parenting time exchanges shall occur. There is no one right answer as to how parenting time exchanges should be conducted.
If the parents can remain relatively amicable, and open lines of communication are available, parenting time exchanges usually aren’t too big of an issue. Even in these amicable cases though, it’s important that issues like fairness in travel time and costs are considered so that resentments don’t build up. Irregular work schedules, rush hour traffic, extracurricular activities, before and after school care, and the costs associated with these things can tax the patience of one or both parties. On the uglier end of the spectrum, I have seen cases in which parenting time exchanges need to take place in a secure setting, neutral setting, or supervised setting, perhaps due to domestic violence, behavioral issues, or substance abuse. Of course, these are the outliers on that spectrum.
One of the most common and effective solutions to preventing chaotic exchanges, or chaos in general, is to have orders in place indicating that the party beginning his or her parenting time with a child is responsible for picking up the child from school or daycare, with the party ending his or her parenting time being responsible for delivering the child to school or daycare. In this scenario, the school becomes the exchange point, the parents don’t have to see each other, and each parent has to arrange their work schedule and transportation issues without interference from or interaction with the other party. In other words, each parent has to figure it out for themselves how to get to the school or daycare on time, and then do it. Normal routines follow, and the exchanges ultimately do not become that big an issue. Likewise, this type of transition greatly reduces the likelihood of a child being subjected to the conflict that can sometimes arise when parents have to see each other. Moreover, one parent is not left waiting around for the other, potentially tardy one to arrive.
However, schools and daycares aren’t always open, and some exchanges might occur on weekends or holidays. In these instances, the exchange could involve contact between the two parents, and the likelihood for complications increases. In those situations, I usually recommend that the exchange occur with the parent ending a parenting time block driving to the other parents’ house. Doing it the other way around often results in the parent waiting outside getting further and further annoyed if the child (or especially teen) is not ready to leave on time. If the delivering parent, conversely, is running late, at the least the other parent is able to wait out the tardiness in the comfort of his or her house. As a tangent, do not be late. Complications happen, but a chronically tardy parent can be held in contempt of court, hostility can arise, and the kids suffer from bearing witness to the parents’ conflict.
If there is a concern for safety during the parenting time exchange by one parent due to the domestic abuse by the other parent, there are some exchange options that protect the fearful parent. If the child is old enough, an order for curbside exchanges is sometimes used, where the delivering parent has to remain in the car while the child goes to the entrance of the residence. For some victims of abuse, curbside exchanges aren’t enough of a protection. In that instance, arranging for the exchange to occur at a public location with plenty of witnesses and security cameras, like a supermarket or fast food restaurant, is a solution. Most police stations permit an exchange in the lobby of the station. In the most egregiously conflicted cases, there are supervised parenting time agencies where they also offer the service of supervising exchanges, those agencies though can be expensive over time, and inconvenient.
In Part 2 of this article I will discuss other aspects of parenting time exchange, including issues which can arise when children don’t want to go and the issues which case arise when new significant others become involved with the handing off of the kids. Though there are certainly more dynamic custom topics for a Denver family law attorney to discuss, one must keep in mind that the little details, when added together, are what make for a good parenting plan.