Once a divorce is finalized, most parents primarily see their ex-partners at parenting time exchanges. These interactions can be stressful both for parents and for children. Even if your co-parenting relationship is friendly, there are ways to make the exchange less prone to conflict. One of the best approaches is to make sure your parenting plan is as clear and specific as possible. And, the more conflict present in the co-parenting relationship, the more detail the parenting plan should contain.
The first category to consider is the basic logistics of drop off and pick up. Where should the exchange take place? If either of you is uncomfortable with going to the other parent’s home, consider a neutral, child-friendly exchange location such as a park or library. A neutral location often makes exchanges easier for both parents, as well as for the children. It also has the advantage of being a public location; if your ex-partner tries to create conflict during drop off, a public location can help to deter this behavior. If there has been violence in the relationship or if there is a protection order in place, choosing to exchange at a local police station may be the best option. In fact, if there are any safety concerns for you or your children, it is critical to make sure your arrangements contain adequate protections for all concerned.
Another aspect of drop off and pick up that needs to be explored is the issue of who drives the children to the drop off and who picks the children up. Will this always be the “receiving” parent? Moreover, a parent may wish to consider an alternative driver for the exchange in the event an emergency comes up and include that party in the written parenting plan. Successful parenting plans often include a “grace period” as well. For example, it is common to allow a parent to be 5 -15 minutes late for drop off or pick up due to emergencies, work deadlines, traffic, etc. If you are not the individual picking up or dropping off, make sure all parties have phone numbers and/or emails to communicate regarding delays. This level of detail is especially important around holidays and breaks as the “normal” parenting exchange times are often different.
Parenting time exchanges are typically not the appropriate time for parents to update each other about important issues in their children’s lives. Instead, some parents keep a joint journal, writing down important events both positive and negative, to exchange during drop off and pick up. Some co-parents may communicate through an online app, such as Talking Parents, a co-parenting communication service. Regardless of which form of communication you use, consider writing the other parent a brief update prior to leaving for the exchange. Make sure the other parent knows a few details about your time with them. Communicate about any disciplinary action such as cell phone or video game restrictions in an effort to be consistent. This communication is also important for any items your child brings between homes. Make sure your child takes any clothes or toys they brought with them back to the other parent’s home, or have a clear agreement about what items are kept in each parent’s home. Remember, personal items important to the child are items of the child, and not ones that parents should be fighting over. Consider keeping track of these items in the exchange journal.
If your exchanges with your child’s co-parent are always full of conflict, you do have the option to record or video the exchange so long as you are present. Colorado law allows recording without the other party’s consent. The bigger question is whether you should record the exchange. This is a case-by-case decision. Before you press the record button, consider why you feel recording is important. Is the other parent’s behavior a violation of a court order or in violation of the law? Is the behavior unsafe to your or to your children? These are necessary questions to consider, as recording or videoing can escalate an already tense situation. We recommend consulting your attorney, or moving to a more secure exchange location such as a police station, prior to recording.
Co-parenting after divorce can be emotional and challenging, even in the best of cases. To protect your children, do your best to remain calm and logical even if the other parent is emotionally charged. If the conflict gets out of control and/or if anyone’s safety is endangered,, call the police immediately. Have a copy of your parenting plan with you for exchanges as law enforcement will want to review the document before making a decision to intervene. After the conflict is diffused, call your attorney to discuss options to modify or enforce your parenting plan.
Finally, if one parent is struggling with abuse or addiction, your parenting plan should include specific details about how sobriety will be monitored prior to parenting time. The court has the discretion to require breathalyzers or urine tests on a regular basis, and many of these tests have rapid results available. This testing needs to be done through a certified laboratory in the event this evidence needs to be submitted to the court.
While it would be ideal to remove all conflict from parenting time exchanges, for the majority of parents that is simply not possible. Depending on your situation, your case may need even more detail than discussed above. The good news is that an experienced attorney will help you craft a creative parenting plan that meets your specific needs to minimize conflict and keep your children safe at all times.