The Post-Divorce-Parenting Glossary

Divorced-Parenting Term

Custody Exchange

What is a custody exchange?

When parents are divorced or separated, the time and place where the child is given from one parent to the other is called a custody exchange.  Most child custody arrangements involve a visitation schedule or custody schedule that specifies certain details about custody exchanges between the involved parents.  Details such as when the exchanges are to take place, will typically be addressed in the divorce decree or separation agreement; however, some details will still need to be coordinated between the parents on an ongoing basis.

Child custody exchanges are under the pervue of visitation rights within the context of family law.  Visitation rights are designed to ensure that both parents have the right to have time with their children, even when other custody problems exist, such as unpaid child support

What are common issues with custody exchanges?

Due to the their nature, child custody exchanges may become complicated if conflict exists between the parents.  If divorced or separated parents have been in a high-conflict parentng relationship, custody exchanges can be very stressful for both the parents and the children.  If parents are experiencing conflict, it is important that the parents keep the children out of the middle of the conflict.  Children can often sense the stress between parents.  Even though it is difficult, parents should attempt to hide any of the conflict from the children.  Often, children will internalize that stress and blame themselves.  Parents should never discuss hot-topic issues that may result in an argument during custody exchanges.

How can divorced or separated parents reduce stress during custody exchanges?

If custody exchanges are stressful, a monitored custody exchange may be requested.  Monitoring exchanges help children go through an exchange between parents while being supervised by a third-party.  The supervision keeps children out of the conflict and lowers the tension level between everyone involved.

Monitored exchanges are also referred to as supervised exchanges, and they may be used in situations where there is a history of violence or emotional abuse.  The downside of monitored exchanges is the cost, but if circumstances warrant, monitored exchanges can be extremely helpful.  Some supervised exchanges provide a vehicle so neither parent sees the other during the custody exchange.  Others allow the children to be dropped off at a facility by one parent, then picked up by the other parent at a later time, also preventing the parents from coming into contact. 

Supervised custody exchanges also help keep control over the punctuality of each parent.  If one is routinely late, a monitored exchange can help control and document the issue.

What are tips to help child custody exchanges go smoother?

Be on time for the exchange
It is important to make every effort to get to custody exchanges on time.  Situations such as traffic congestion will happen from time-to-time, making a parent late for an exchange.  But when one parent is consistently late it can be disrespectful to the other parent.  Furthermore, it can be very stressful for the children and escalate conflict.  Repeated tardiness to custody exchanges may result in legal consequences such as being found guilty of custodial interference, a crime in many states.

Set up the exchange to occur at a day care or school
Arranging to exchange the children at their day care or school can help parents avoid face to face contact.  One parent can drop off the children in the morning and the other can pick them up in the afternoon.  If separated or divorced parents, in periods of high conflict, make efforts to minimize face-to-face to face contact with each other, it can serve to help reduce conflict over time and possibly allow for a healthy co-parenting or parallel parenting relationship in the future. 

Have another person or neutral third party present for the exchange
Having another person present at the exchange may help provide make the exchange safer and increase the chance that the parents remain civil to each other.   Furthermore, a third person may help to act as a witness if inappropriate conflict should arise.

Have the exchange where there are witnesses and/or surveillance cameras
Consider an exchange time and location that is in a public place where surveillance cameras are located.  Parking lots or busy restaurants may be suitable.  Witnesses can help to deter inappropriate behavior, which further increases that chances that parents will abide by the child custody arrangement.  Surviellance cameras can also be a deterent to inappropriate or abusive behavior during the exchange.

Have the exchange near a police headquaters
Some parents that have a significant fear related to their custody exchanges decide to have the exchanges at a police station.

Have one parent remain in the car
It may be important for one parent to remain in the car if face-to-face contact is likely to trigger an argument.  Depending on the amount of conflict, driving to custody exchanges can often be triggering and serve to escalate a parent's frustration.  If one parent remains in the car the other can assist with transferring the kids to the other vehicle.

Make the most of the time during the drive
If the parents live far apart, the custody exchanges can take a significant amount of time for all involved.  Listening to books on cd or joining a service like can help make the drive more tolerable.

Make it a positive experience for the children and avoid parental alienation
What parents want to avoid is having the children feel stressed and upset each time they go from parent-to-parent.  It may be a good idea to review the Divorced Children’s Bill of Rights from time to time.  Parental alienation is a very real problem, which nether parent wins.  Eventually the children grow mature enough to realize that they were alienated from one parent by the other, and they have essentially lost a loving relationship from both parents.

Because the custody exchanges are one of the few times that parents may see each other, it is one of the most important times where each parent will have to control what they say.

How can stressful custody exchanges lead to negative effects on children of divorce?

Children tend to take stress personally.  Stress in children of divorce can lead to a myriad of negative consequences.  Studies have shown conclusively that children in high-conflict divorces have higher rates of school dropouts, lower grades, are less likable to their piers, and are more inclined to take part in illegal activity.  Because the custody exchange is one of the most common events that trigger conflict, it stands to reason that if parents can avoid the conflict during custody exchanges, they can help their children avoid those negative consequences.

The purpose of the custody exchange is to let the children foster a bond with each parent.  It is important that both parents respect their children's right to love and be loved by each parent.  Parents who are able to focus on a child-centered divorce relationship, will avoid any temptation to engage in parental alienation.  Rather, they will attempt to help the child enjoy their relationship with their other biological parent, because they understand that the children end up benefiting so much more in the future. 

What are ramifications associated with not abiding by agreed upon custody exchanges?

Custodial interference is the situation where one parent purposefully attempts to thwart or make difficult the custodial time that the other parent has with the children.  Custodial interference, in some cases can be a criminal act.  If one parent is engaging in custodial interference, the affected parent should document the events and be prepared to use that evidence in family court.  Family courts may change the custody order to favor the affected parent in some cases.

If the situation isn't able to be resolved, the affected person could request from the court a supervised custody exchange be required.  Furthermore, they could request that the offending party pay for the supervised custody exchange since they caused the issue.  How the court decides on the case depends on the specific circumstances.

Depending on the severity of the custodial interference, police intervention may be appropriate.  It should be noted that events out of the control of the parents like traffic jams, mechanical breakdowns, or other unforeseen events do not constitute custodial interference.



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