A reality of parenting after divorce is your child moving between your home and your ex’s home. Like all transitions those exchanges can be awkward at first but do become routine as everyone adjusts to the new situation. However, if you and your ex are locked in post-divorce conflict then parenting exchanges are more opportunities for turmoil and you’ll need to look at how to reduce the conflict in parenting exchanges.
My current guest Liv separated from her husband seven years ago and has now been divorced for three years. Their two children are now nine and six. Liv’s parenting exchanges were often ugly and upsetting but since their Parenting Coordinator switched the exchanges to school they’ve become calmer. Here’s Liv:
The Parenting Coordinator made a decision on the parenting time and it ended up being fifty-fifty. I was not initially extremely happy that it was fifty-fifty. I’m a mom. I want to have more time with my children, but in the end, the schedule makes it a lot calmer for us and a lot calmer for the children because most of the pick-ups and drop-offs are done at the school. One of our problems was that we were seeing each other too much.
With the school exchanges we don’t have that opportunity for interaction that doesn’t go very well. I don’t engage typically with him but he makes a point of it. There’s been a couple of times when he’s come to my house and he’s openly belligerent. He will tape me from his car. He will send the kids in and make them ask questions about where my husband is and it’s not good. It’s better if we don’t see each other and I try to as much as possible to avoid seeing him. We do all of our contact by email.
The kids cope well with drop-offs and pick-ups at school – we just drop them off at the gate and they go and play with their friends and get into the school. And it’s pretty much like any other kid who sometimes dad drops off and sometimes mom drops off.
I’m not going to say there hasn’t been issues with the school because there have been issues with the school. But it’s mostly with the teachers. And it’s not me, and it’s not me having the fights with my husband in front of them that’s the problem. He makes communication very difficult with the school. When stuff goes home for the kids to his house, it disappears. And I’ve talked to the teachers about this. If I don’t see it, I can’t know what is going on. I always make sure that I pass the information to him when it comes to my house but he does not do that for me. That causes a lot of problems but the children are not involved in that. I don’t pull them into it if something is missing. I do occasionally ask if there is something that went home. But they’re not drawn into that part of the conflict.
There’s very few things that travel between our two homes such as clothing and personal items. The children take with them the clothes that they are wearing for the day. Then the clothes that they were wearing on the day that they come back. Whatever my ex dropped them off in goes back with them in their bag.
We had an incident during a time when we weren’t doing school drop-offs. He showed up at my door and there was a check for me from the insurance company for one of the children’s prescriptions or something and he held it away from me. I was on crutches at the time and he said he wouldn’t give it to me unless I went downstairs and picked up anything in my house that could possibly belong to him and give it back right at that instant. After that we started suggesting to the children that they needed to leave items from dad’s house at dad’s house and items from mom’s house at mom’s house. So we typically don’t transfer things between the two houses aside from the clothes.
The Divorce Coach Says
It is important for the well-being of your child that you and your ex work to make parenting exchanges conflict-free. When exchanges come with arguments, disagreements, shouting and yelling, your child is going to dread the exchanges and it’s a classic case of putting your child in the middle of your divorce conflict.
There are two elements to Liv’s parenting exchanges that help to minimize the contact between her and her ex.
One is frequency and the other is venue and both of these need to balance the need of the child against the needs of the parents.
Liv mentions that she has 50-50 parenting – that doesn’t necessarily mean a week on/week off schedule. It could also mean a 5-2-2-5 schedule or a 4-3-3-4 arrangement. It could also be a three week rotation rather than a two week rotation. There are lots of possibilities. The most important influence on this is your child’s ability to be away from the other parent and this is very child-specific. There is no magic age when a child should have one specific schedule and then transition to another schedule when they reach a certain age. It comes down to the child’s development needs, their schedule of activities and how they cope with the transitions.
With respect to venue, again you have to give consideration to the child’s comfort and safety. Exchanging at each other’s home is the ideal option, even if it means the visiting parent staying curbside and not entering the house.
Next to that, schools are a great option because the child doesn’t have to feel self-conscious about the exchange. Also from a safety viewpoint, if the picking-up parent is late or a no-show, your child is not left unattended and the school will call the emergency contacts.
I would generally not recommend arranging exchanges at restaurants or parking lots mainly because neither of these seem to be great from a child’s perspective however, some parents do make this work.
Finally, if there is any threat of violence or if there are restraining orders in place, then the supervised exchanges offered by a professional or an organization are an option.
If you’d like to make your parenting exchanges go smoother then here’s a helpful Child-Friendly Exchange Handbook from the State of Missouri judicial system.