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Joint custody exchange day can be a difficult time for parents and children alike. No matter what your time-sharing schedule looks like and how long your parenting plan has been in place, this day and the days leading up to it can be filled with anxiety, sadness, and uncertainty.
However, it doesn't have to be this way. There are many things you can do ahead of time to ensure a smooth transition for everyone involved. It will just take some advanced planning and consideration of everyone's needs and feelings.
Plan in Advance
Setting a consistent day and time for custody exchange is very important. Children thrive when there are routines and set schedules incorporated into their daily lives. Custody plans are no exception.
Allow your child to be part of the exchange process. Letting them know ahead of time what day and time they will leave your home to go to your co-parent's home will give them a feeling of control and reduce the feeling of being lost or confused when the time comes. If they are old enough, and your co-parenting situation allows it, try getting some input from your child on what day and at what time they would prefer that exchange to happen.
Another thing to think about is the exchange location. Will the parent that currently has the child take them to the other parent's home? Or maybe the exchange needs to be done at a neutral public location. If the exchange occurs on a school day, the child could go to school from one home and the other parent can pick them up after, or they ride the bus to the other parent's home. Again, input from your child can go a long way in helping to ease the transition.
TalkingParents' Shared Calendar feature helps keep everyone on schedule, and accountable, as to when and where this occurs.
Once you've set up the day, time, and place of your child's transition day, you should consider putting together a checklist of items that your child will need/want to have with them. There is nothing more frustrating than getting home and realizing your child doesn't have the things that they need.
This list can include:
Depending on the frequency of the exchange and what days the child spends with each parent, the items needed may vary. This is why consistency is key. Utilizing the same bag can be helpful. You can also keep this list in the TalkingParents Info Library as a quick and easy place to reference as needed. Keep in mind that the more items the child must transport between homes, the more of a hassle this can be and the more stress it may cause. Where available, try to duplicate items in each parents' home to cut down on the things that could be forgotten. If your child is switching homes on a school day, they may not want to carry an extra bag with personal items.
Work with your co-parent and child to create a complete list of items, plan to pack things the night before, and double-check during the exchange if possible. Remember to practice some patience the first few times until everyone gets into a good routine.
Keep it Simple
The key to keeping stress and anxiety out of custody exchange day is to keep it simple. Try to adhere to your plan as closely as possible without any major last-minute changes and keep any other co-parenting business out of the transition.
We know that life often likes to throw curveballs, so there may be times when the location or day and time don't work for some reason. Try to identify these instances as early as possible and let your co-parent know so there aren't any unexpected modifications happening the day of or even the day before. Be sure to record these into the Shared Calendar to ensure they are documented. And lastly, try to always be on time. If you are running late, let the other parent know as soon as possible!
Avoid discussing any private matters regarding other co-parenting issues like finances, separation agreements, and relationship issues. Confrontational subjects should be addressed out of earshot of your child, and these matters are always best communicated through TalkingParents Accountable Calling or Messaging. Your child doesn't need to feel as though they are torn between their parents, and they don't need to worry about arguments breaking out every time they switch homes.
Your child may cry or act out on the day or days leading up to joint custody switch day. You may also have feelings of anxiety about seeing your ex or sadness because your child is leaving. These feelings are normal and should be addressed.
Support your child and let them know you will miss them but that it is important for them to spend time with their other parent as well. Think about setting up a consistent time to speak with them while they are at their other parent's home so the time apart doesn't seem so hard. If the transition doesn't become easier over time, it may be a good idea to set up a counseling session with a professional to see if they can assist.
You can also let your child know that you will miss them while they are gone, but do not burden them too heavily with your feelings as they have many of their own to deal with. If you are having a hard time coping with being without your child, plan to do something you enjoy after leaving your child with their other parent. Of course, if the feelings are too overwhelming, be sure to seek out a counselor that can help.
Studies show that joint custody is best for children of all ages. There are many benefits to your child spending time with both parents and their extended families. Although it may be stressful and not an ideal situation, with a little bit of planning and understanding, custody exchange day can become a regular part of your and your child's schedule.
TalkingParents blogs are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Always consult with a qualified attorney regarding legal matters.