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Child Custody Exchange Safety

Four safety tips for child custody exchange pick-ups and drop-offs.

For parents navigating shared custody or visitation, child custody exchange safety is not just important, it’s imperative. Though this has always been a top priority for moms and dads in high-conflict co-parenting situations or previously abusive relationships, child custody exchange safety has gained widespread attention in the wake of the Cassie Carli case.

How the Cassie Carli case highlights the importance of safe custody exchanges

Carli was last seen alive on March 27th, 2022, in the parking lot of a restaurant located in Navarre, Florida. Authorities say the 37-year-old mother was meeting up with her ex-boyfriend that evening to exchange custody of their four-year-old daughter, Saylor, when she disappeared. According to officials, Saylor was safely located two days later, but Carli was found dead about a week later in Alabama. Carli’s ex-boyfriend, Marcus Spanevelo, is currently charged with abuse of a corpse in connection with her death.

This case has prompted Florida lawmakers to introduce new legislation seeking to amend the state’s statutes to provide county-mandated spaces for parents to exchange custody of their children, while bringing renewed attention to the safety of custody exchanges nationwide. Though some areas across the U.S. already have laws or programs in place to promote custody exchange safety, we’ll likely see an increase over the coming years due to this case.

Mother walking with daughter

Child custody exchange safety tips

Though many parents are not worried about custody swap safety due to the nature of their situations, it’s a real concern for those with high-conflict co-parents, particularly for domestic violence survivors. If you or a loved one has a joint custody or visitation agreement in which child pick-ups and drop-offs are at play, these five tips can help promote safe exchanges:

Tip #1: Conduct exchanges in a designated public place

Many cities and counties have designated “safe zones” where parents can exchange custody in a public and/or monitored setting. These are often located in police department parking lots or run by local government and private organizations. You can call local authorities to see if a designated safe exchange spot exists near you. SafeTrade Station also has a list of sites located throughout the U.S. that people use to meet up safely, including parents conducting custody exchanges.

Tip #2: Only pick-up and drop-off your child in well-lit areas

No matter when or where you decide to meet up for custody exchanges, conducting pick-ups and drop-offs in well-lit areas is always smart. Even if the exchange area is located in a public place, designated as a safe zone, or under video surveillance, you should follow this advice. Improved lighting has proven to reduce crimes for several reasons, including deterring potential offenders who fear being seen or recognized and an increased chance of police or bystanders catching an offender in the act.

Tip #3: Share your location with a loved one

Let a friend or family member know where your custody exchange is set to take place and roughly what time you are expected to be there. You can do this by texting them the address or sharing your location with them. Let your loved one know that they should expect a call or text from you after the exchange is complete to let them know everything went as planned.

Child running to her father

Tip #4: Do not engage in arguments or debates

A custody swap is not the time or place to discuss contentious matters. Pick-ups and drop-offs should be centered around your kids and getting them to their destination safely. If your child’s other parent tries to bring up a high-conflict topic or start a fight, do not engage. If things start to escalate anyway, have your phone on hand so you can dial authorities or someone you trust.

Tip #5: Document all communication and coordination

Many times, exchanges are not the starting point of safety issues between parents with shared custody or visitation agreements. Typically, tensions escalate during swaps only after communication was bad for quite some time or it was never healthy to begin with. In either case, documenting all communication and coordination with your child’s other parent in a safe, secure place is crucial.

Father watching laptop with children

Co-parenting communication services, like TalkingParents, keep everything regarding your child organized and recorded, including discussions and schedules surrounding custody exchanges. Actions taken within TalkingParents cannot be edited or deleted, and they are documented in our Unalterable Records, which are court-admissible. Additionally, you do not have to share personal information like phone numbers and email addresses with your child’s other parent to use TalkingParents. This allows you to coordinate pick-ups and drop-offs while keeping your information private.

Additionally, TalkingParents offers a Personal Journal, which allows you to take private notes about anything you would like. You can use this feature to document any notable interactions, thoughts, feelings, or emotions surrounding custody exchanges and your child’s other parent in a secure place. If you notice anything that could be cause for concern during a custody exchange, write it down in the Personal Journal so you or an attorney can reference it later. Your notes are not viewable to anyone but you unless you choose to share them.

If tensions with your child’s other parent have escalated to an unsafe level, recording their behaviors to use as evidence in court is necessary for your and your child’s well-being. You can use this documentation as reason to revisit the current parenting agreement in court, including in-person child exchanges, split custody, or visitation allowances.

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