I have had my share of custody visitation drop offs, some good and some bad. Parents arrive late or not at all. I've heard mumbling and grumbling and seen my upset children get in the car as they arrive or depart to spend time with the other parent. But I also know how important it is to make visitation exchanges go smoothly, which is not always an easy thing. After all, how do you work out a schedule, different disciplines and unwilling children when you couldn't even work things out when you were married?
Follow the schedule but be flexible. Most states order a schedule for visitation that you should follow. But most orders also include "whatever in the best interests of the children or as agreed upon by the parties" as a fallback position. A soccer game is not a good reason to cancel a visitation, but a wedding, funeral, or one of a kind opportunity are all instances where being flexible not only means getting along with your "ex" but showing your children a great deal about making compromises when needed.
Don't talk the talk. Have you heard "if you can't say anything nice, then don't say nothing at all?" That's a good rule to keep about visitation. If you complain about the visit, the time it takes to make the exchange, the drive, the gas or any other issues, you are quite likely to make your child feel bad about the visit. They feel guilty because they are going. They feel bad because they may want to. There is no reason to put that on your children and it accomplishes nothing by starting the blame game at the visitation exchange.
Be like Switzerland. Neutrality is key for visitation drop offs and pick-ups. Maybe you need to find a place where you can meet to complete the exchange. We used to meet at a restaurant. It was easier than trying to take the kids away from what they were doing while he stood there waiting for them. He would be mad that they "weren't ready," and I would be mad because I thought he was late/early and of course for some it's never comfortable to have you ex-spouse hanging out in your new home.
Pay for court costs. I don't know anyone that likes to return to court. I'm sure that there are those few people who actually do it as a method of punishing their ex-spouse, but for the most part no one wants to pay the price of a court intervention. There are attorney and court fees as well as lost wages and the toll it takes on you and your children. However, if you consistently make an effort to make exchanges run smoothly and they don't, then it is time to pay the court costs and get an official mediation of the situation. I know I've had to return to court more than one time in the many years since my divorce.
Not all visitation exchanges are difficult. Some people are able to say hello and goodbye and even act cordial to each other. Some visitation exchanges are more complicated due to domestic violence, restraining orders, living in different states and ever-changing work, school or sports schedules. As always, you should follow the instructions in the court order regarding your visitation. Even more important when making exchanges, no matter where or when they may happen, is to create an opportunity for them to run smoothly and without conflict.
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