Navigating Child Custody Exchanges
Sharing custody of a child after divorce can involve walking a path littered with the possibility of having an explosive argument at any time. Depending upon how acrimonious the divorce was, having simple and civil conversations can prove challenging. Unfortunately, splitting time with a child invariably requires regular communication and physical contact to accomplish exchanging the custody of the child. Child exchanges can quickly become the setting for heated arguments if one parent is not cooperating or following the terms of the custody order. In fact, some former spouses have such fractured relationships that child custody exchanges can become dangerous. A man is currently incarcerated in a Delaware County prison after killing his ex-wife at a local Wawa, a spot they used weekly to exchange custody of their young son. This site was specifically chosen because of the security cameras and presence of other people. Unfortunately, not even these precautions are enough in some situations, and parents concerned about safety during these encounters need to know how to protect themselves and their child from harm.
Structuring Child Custody Exchanges
As a baseline strategy, if there is any tension or feelings of discomfort between the parents, exchanges should happen in a public place, which deters tempers from flaring and escalations of violence, and provides witnesses if something does go wrong. Figuring out the best arrangement may require the involvement of a parenting coordinator, a program recently reinstated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which allows family law judges to appoint a coordinator to resolve parenting issues once the final custody order is issued. This program is not available if there is a history of violence, and they cannot change the terms of the custody order itself, but a coordinator can evaluate and offer recommendations to the court about custody exchanges, among other issues.
Other things parents can do on their own to limit disputes include:
- Arriving on time – late arrivals will only fan conflict;
- Having a neutral third-party present to both encourage civil conversation and to be a witness if problems do arise;
- Exchanging at or near a police station if safety concerns arise; and
- Exchanging at the child’s school or daycare if the parents want to entirely avoid one another.
When Harm Is Threatened
The stakes become much higher when violence or the threat of violence enters the mix, and the parent facing potential harm must take action to protect him/herself. If parents cannot engage in a calm conversation, the child and one or both parents are at risk. The level of conflict and the behavior exhibited will dictate the correct response, but for those truly in fear, they need to speak to a family law attorney about seeking protective orders and/or filing for sole custody. Courts will not grant these requests without evidence, but they are important tools for parents facing extreme circumstances during custody exchanges that can provide the safety net a parent needs to stay safe.
Get Legal Advice from a Pennsylvania Family Law Attorney
Child custody exchanges are nerve-wracking experiences for many parents, and if you have concerns about how they are happening, talk a Pennsylvania family law attorney as soon as possible. The safety of you and your child is paramount, and if there is any possibility of violence or withholding the child, help is needed. The Media child custody attorneys at Barbara Flum Stein & Associates help clients deal with complicated family law issues, and are available to discuss your case. Contact the Delaware County family law firm to schedule a consultation.