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Keeping custody exchanges short can make them less stressful for everyone

If you’ve started to dread those times during the week when you and your co-parent drop off or pick up your child at each other’s home or elsewhere, you’re not alone. These custody exchanges can be fraught with tension and even conflict -– particularly in the early days of separation or divorce.

The problem is often that one or both parents use this time to deal with other issues. It can be anything from a late child support payment to a photo on Instagram – and everything in-between. 

If you’re dreading these exchanges, chances are that your child is as well. That’s why it’s important to make these exchanges solely about your child, and specifically about immediate “need-to-know” matters. Settle other issues at another time, out of earshot of your child.

The “two-minute exchange”

If you and your co-parent still aren’t at a place in your relationship where you can even exchange basic information about your child without someone being offended or getting angry, one family therapist recommends what she calls the “two-minute exchange.” She points out that, with a little planning, an efficient custody exchange can be done in this period.

We all manage to spend a couple of minutes during the workday, family gatherings and church functions dealing with people we’d rather not have to be around. We can do the same with our co-parent to make our child’s life – and ours — less stressful.

Planning is essential

To get that exchange down to two minutes, you’ll need to have your child’s belongings ready to pass along to your co-parent. Of course, the less they have to pack up, the easier it is for everyone. That’s why it’s a good idea for your child to have essentials like toiletries, some clothes and — if possible — a laptop, toys, games and sports equipment at each house. However, they may still need to bring schoolbooks, an art project and other items.

If you’re the one dropping off, take care of your reminders and words of wisdom before you arrive. A quick goodbye and “I love you” to your child at the door will only take a couple of seconds.

Some parents include provisions regarding custody exchanges in their parenting plan. If you believe that you and your co-parent need to codify some things in writing to help the transitions go more smoothly, your attorney can help you.