In Part 1 of this article, I discussed some of the concerns that can arise related to exchanging children for court ordered visitation (parenting time). This included some discussion regarding conflicts which can arise and ways to alleviate those conflicts with well written, detailed orders. In this Part 2, I will continue the discussion by touching on additional exchange topics such as children not wanting to go with the other parent and the use of new significant others or family members for those exchanges.
As indicated in part one, the primary goal of any parenting time exchange expected by the court should be making sure the transfer of the child has as little impact on the child as possible. This can generally be accomplished with parents either being committed to getting along in front of the child, or perhaps having no contact at all.
Sadly, some parents like the conflict, and use the parenting time exchange, including the drive to the exchange, to work a child into clinginess or a tantrum. They might then point to the child’s upset at going with the other parent as “proof” that the other parent is unfit or a lesser parent. This is a form of parental alienation, and neither parent should use the parenting time exchange as a battleground to win your custody case. You are actually more likely to do more harm than good to your custody case if you do play games at exchanges and get called out on it.
Sometimes, though, the complications during the parenting time exchange do legitimately originate from the kids themselves. A child may not want to go to the other parent’s house for whatever reason and then throws a fit. For the younger children, unless there is a concern about safety, the exchange should proceed, and both parents need to encourage and comfort the child to minimize the emotional impact. Teenagers, however, can be a different story. A parent can’t physically pick up a sixteen year old kid and put him in the other parent’s car. Still, to the extent a parent is complicit in the teen’s difficult behavior, contempt or other sanctions can still be imposed. However, if a teen consistently is making his or her interests known, the parents may need to revisit their parenting time plan to accommodate the wishes of the teen.
Another issue can arise when step-parents or significant others are used to make the parenting time exchange. In many post divorce situations, a step-parent can be a big plus in serving as a back-up ride or providing needed flexibility in a parenting time exchange schedule. However, jealousy can rear its ugly head, with demands that step-parents stay out of it or with increased tension and hostilities during an exchange where a step-parent is present. If one parent’s significant other is safe and responsible, the other parent should be open to that person’s participation in an exchange regimen. Frankly, most courts ascribe to the theory that a parent has the right to determine who will pick up a child, so long as that person is safe, has a valid license to drive, etc. One way to lessen conflict centered around their persons doing these exchanges is good communication. If you are the parent using a third person, let the other parent know ahead of time so that there are no surprises leading to conflict. Also, remind that third person, whether a new spouse or family member, that they are to be on their best behavior, putting personal feelings aside. If you are the parent having to deal with exchanging the child with a new significant other or third person, keep in mind that courts will generally not support or approve of a denial to follow through with handing over the child based on the other parent not actually being the one to do the exchange.
Though uncommon, I have also seen cases in which one parent might come to a parenting time exchange intoxicated, whether from drugs or alcohol. If you are the parent handing over the child and have reason to believe the receiving parent is intoxicated, do not hand over the child. Rather, stay there and call police. They will generally be more than happy to come to the scene and potentially even test the other parent. Though no one wants their child to witness such events, safety trumps all other aspects of parenting. Conversely, if you are the receiving parent and believe the other parent has brought the child while intoxicated, get the child, then call police. They will likely be more than happy to contact the other parent to investigate and potentially test for intoxication. Again, nothing matters more than knowing your child is safe. Though rare, these types of things do happen. From there, contact your attorney.
Over the course of many years and over a thousand cases, the experienced attorneys at Plog & Stein have just about seen it all. This includes cases in which everyone cooperates for the best interest of the children. It also includes cases of arguing, parenting time denials, and even violence at exchanges. In this day and age, keep in mind that everyone has a cell phone and every exchange can easily be captured on video, which may ultimately be used in court. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Working with an attorney to craft detailed and workable custody orders, including related to parenting time exchanges, can set the stage for a more harmonious future for both you and your child.