Every day, in every city in America, child custody exchanges take place. Usually, parents can set aside any bad feelings they may have to make the situation as pleasant as possible for their child. But sometimes, almost anything — a simmering dispute, a new love interest, a harsh word, even a child's outfit or hairstyle — can turn the situation into an argument or a violent conflict. And on some occasions, the circumstances can even turn deadly.
That's what happened recently in San Antonio, Texas, when a man and his ex-wife got into an argument during their custody exchange at an apartment complex. When the woman's new husband came outside, he pulled out a gun and fired at least one shot, killing the child's father.
Unfortunately, co-parenting couples don't always get along. Sometimes old arguments resurface when they see each other. Disagreements over how to raise their child or children can erupt during the exchange, as can conflicts related to holidays and when each will get to see the child. One parent arriving late to the exchange or not abiding by their agreement can be enough to cause an already simmering situation to boil over.
There are a few steps co-parents can take to minimize the likelihood of an altercation:
- Pick a neutral, public location for the exchange.
- Decide in advance not to engage, no matter what your ex says.
- Follow the rules, to the letter.
- Bring someone else with you – but not someone your ex hates.
Having a parenting agreement that is clear and reasonable can go a long way in preventing a testy custody exchange. You don't want it to be so vague that either party can interpret it differently, but you also don't want it to be so rigid that it's unreasonable.
Speaking of reasonable, allow for a realistic window of time for the exchange itself. People get stuck at work, and they get stuck in traffic. Make sure there's some flexibility in your agreement.
But if even these steps are not enough to prevent a messy exchange, you can set yourself up for future success by keeping a journal to document what happens at every exchange, the bad ones and the good ones. You can use this to try and identify a trigger, as well as to provide evidence of a pattern of poor behavior that you can show the judge when you ask to modify the custody agreement.
In addition, you should know that your child custody order is a civil issue and not a criminal one. This means that though police have the ability to help you enforce your order, they may also tell you that you need to take the matter back to family court.
Sometimes custody exchanges go wrong, no matter what you do to prevent ugliness. Managing a custody arrangement can be a minefield, but you don't have to walk through it alone. We're here to help. Email or call us at 888-535-3686.