Family Law...Putting the “Change” in “Exchange”: Minimizing Conflict During Pick-ups and Drop-offs

Anne McFarlane – April 2017

Despite everyone’s best intentions, conflict can continue between parents post-separation. This conflict often rears its ugly head when parents are forced to see one another; often during the child’s exchange from one party’s care to the other’s. Below are some suggestions to implement in your parenting plan, should conflict continue during exchanges.

Minimize contact during exchanges

If conflict is continuing, I often recommend to clients that they restructure their parenting schedule to ensure pick-ups and drop-offs take place without the parties’ direct involvement. This means creating a schedule where one parent drops the child off to daycare or school, and the other picks them up afterward. This can also take place during a regular extracurricular activity, or from a private babysitter. This option ensures the child is not subjected to potential in-person conflict and will likely limit face-to-fact contact between the parents to if/when they deem it necessary.

Invite a trusted third party

As individuals are often on their best behaviour when they feel like they’re being watched, having a neutral third party present during exchanges can be an effective tool in decreasing conflict. You likely want to choose someone who does not align with one person or the other, and is someone you both trust to step in if there is ever a need. It is best to be selective about this person, and consider one another’s feelings (and those of the child, of course) when choosing the best person to fill this role. As an example, a new partner may not be the best choice.

Meet at a neutral location

As with many busy families, it may not be possible to always have pick-ups and drop-offs take place at school or the babysitter’s or have someone attend these exchanges. This means it may be necessary to meet somewhere everyone feels comfortable. Parties may feel as though they have “home court advantage” at their place of residence or workplace, and this can result in a power imbalance between the parties. If this is the case, I often recommend choosing a convenient, public location (a coffee shop, the local community centre, etc.) as a meeting point.

If the conflict is exceptionally high, especially if one or both parties do not feel safe, it is possible to have court-ordered pick-ups and drop-offs with trained professionals involved. Centres such as Veith House have social workers on staff who are trained to handle family conflict, and facilitate a smooth transition between households. If tensions are particularly high immediately after family litigation or during another particularly trying time, you may wish to discuss this option in more detail with your family law lawyer.

Engage in co-parenting counselling

Parents will often require the input and guidance of a neutral third party to assist in decreasing conflict. This is when the services of a counsellor or therapist can be invaluable. This sort of outside help can be very useful, especially to provide assistance navigating the times when the child is potentially present. A counsellor can provide tips and tricks for effective communication between parents and assist in keeping the children out of the middle of any potential conflictual communication. An added bonus is these services are often covered by private health insurance, so this may be a low or no-cost, but very effective, solution.

A member of the family law team at MDW Law would be please to discuss these options, and others, in more detail. Please contact us if we can be of assistance with your family law needs.

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