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A common problem among newly separated or divorced parents is how to handle seeing each other outside of the courtroom.  While a court order may have made decisions on what happens in their day to day lives with their finances, their living arrangements, and/or their interaction with their children the complex emotional underpinnings involved in their separation are often unresolved.  Seeing each other outside the courtroom becomes a tinderbox of emotions waiting to erupt. The time-frame where children are exchanged between the custody of one parent to the other is fraught with this emotional dilemma.  This time-frame provides the perfect storm for disagreements and arguments to surface.  Unfortunately, the disagreements and arguments are often witnessed by their children while the exchange is occurring.

Granted not all couples fight the same.  However, when the cycle of fighting involves insults, shouting, physical altercations, and even the cold shoulder, children notice that tension.   When children are exposed to dysfunctional fighting on a consistent basis it can lead to stress.  That stress can reveal itself it what seems to be unrelated behavioral problems or illness.  A stressed child could also be fearful and anxious in social situations, exhibit bed-wetting, and/or sleep problems.  Stress can even take the form of a withdrawn child or a child who frequently reports of having aches and pains. Children learn  how to interact with their outside world from the behavior of their parents.  Often parents don’t realize that a cycle of dysfunctional fighting teaches their children how to handle disagreements with their friends, siblings and even their future partners.

CHANGE WHO DOES THE CUSTODY EXCHANGE

It is best to eliminate the opportunity for friction between parents during the custody exchange.  Those opportunities may already be in the custody order made by the court. Many parents miss that their order may allow for the exchange to occur between any competent adult trusted by the parents.  So, if it is more conducive for the exchange to occur between another family member or trusted friend, that could eliminate arguments in front of the children.

CHANGE WHERE THE CUSTODY EXCHANGE OCCURS

If the decree or order is not helpful, parents can make a different agreement on where the custody exchange occurs.  Parents frequently think that the divorce decree or SAPCR order is set in stone. However, the decree or custody order governs what happens when the parents cannot come to an agreement.  If parents can come to some other arrangement that works for them and limit the opportunity for fighting between them, they are free to do so.  Arrange for the exchange in very public places (McDonald's, Chuck E Cheese, police station) to avoid disagreements that become loud or physical.   Better yet, if it is better for the parents to avoid interaction altogether, make an agreement for pick up at the child’s school once classes are dismissed and drop off when school resumes. Another option, if the framework for your home allows and your children are old enough, allow the pick-up and drop off to occur from door to curbside.  That way one parent watches the children from the doorway and the other watches from the car as the custody exchange occurs.

AVOID SITUATIONS RIPE WITH DISCORD

Situations where an issue is likely to get a rise out of the ex-partner, tardiness in the pick-up and/or drop-off of the children or forgetting details of an agreement contrary to the custody order are often ripe for fights or discord to occur.  Exes usually know how to get their ex-partner angry.  However,  custody exchanges are not the time to hash out why an ex insists on taking a certain course of action or neglected to do something.  Parents who discuss these arrangements before or after the custody exchange can often avoid arguing during the custody exchange.  

Houston traffic can lead the well-intended parent to arrive late. However, planning ahead and leaving early can increase the chances for a timely custody-exchange and avoid an argument regarding punctuality. If the tardiness cannot be avoided, let the other parent know as soon as possible.  Now if parents make an agreement that is not in the custody order, such agreement should be memorialized in some manner to avoid future disagreements.  A simple text message after the agreement is made or email detailing the agreement can be enough to prevent future fights over the matter during the custody-exchange.

Finally, adequate preparation before the exchange can reduce the likelihood of fights. Make sure the children have any needed medication and instructions while in the custody of the other parent.  Ensure homework assignments are done or all that is needed to complete the homework is with the child during the custody-exchange. Verify that any items from the other parent’s home is with the children during the custody-exchange.

Author's Information: Attorney Tracey A. Beecher is a family law practitioner. She represents clients with divorce, child support, child custody, property division in relation to divorce proceedings, and child protective services cases. She appears in courts within Brazoria, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller counties.

Legal Disclaimer: Each person's situation and circumstances are unique. As such, this article is given to provide general information only. It is not legal advice nor is it intended as a substitute for legal counsel. Should the reader need legal advice or counsel, it is appropriate to seek the assistance of a licensed attorney.

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