Virginia Custody and Visitation Exchanges

Posted on Nov 24, 2021 by Katie Carter

There are as many different sizes and shapes of families navigating the complexity of different types of coparenting relationships as there are fish in the ocean. As much as its difficult to reconcile your every day reality with the reality of what you see from friends and family on social media, it is important to remember that every family has to figure out their new normal for themselves.

Some do it amazingly, and navigate the complexities of coparenting, and mixing elaborate blended families, beautifully. They seem to fall into a rhythm that works even better than it did when they were together. They work together for the sake of the child, and welcome others – stepparents, stepchildren, and others – into their family fold.

But that’s not the reality for everyone. For many others – in fact, maybe for MOST others – its difficult to find a routine that works. It’s difficult to build up a foundation of trust with a coparent. It’s hard to see a new stepparent be introduced, it’s hard to juggle the needs of multiple families and different children, and it’s hard to share custody. Whatever reasons drove you to break up, separate, or divorce your child’s father will probably make it difficult, at least initially, to establish a coparenting relationship.

It’s different for everyone, and I’d venture to say that all families experience their own challenges. They’re maybe not the same challenges, but that doesn’t make your concerns any valid. It’s also not always something you can navigate on your own, so if you need an attorney, a guardian ad litem, or a judge to help you figure out the way forward, well, that may just be part of your path.

For many families, a particular pain point is the actual visitation exchange. In custodyspeak, that’s what we call the turnover point; the point where one parent drops off the child and the other parent picks him or her up.

That can look different, depending on the family. Some families try to minimize the time they actually have to meet together for turnovers, and instead swap the kids in and around daycare or school drop off and pick ups (like, one parent drops the child off in the morning, and the other parent picks them up at the end of the day).  That way, the coparents don’t have to interact as much, but can still be present for the child.

Other parents meet at a neutral location, like a McDonald’s or even a police station. This is necessary in the event of relocated parents; sometimes, they prefer to meet in the middle, rather than drive all the way to the other parent’s house. It can also be necessary in a case where the situation is particularly volatile; where there’s domestic violence or some kind of abuse between the parents.

Still others pick up and drop off at each other’s houses. There aren’t really rules here; it’s all about what works for each individual family.

But it still can be a difficult point, especially in the more contentious custody cases. The visitation exchange point is a time where the parents often come face to face. A lot of the times, once they separate, there’s not really a lot of opportunities to see each other – but visitation exchanges are a constant, and sometimes very difficult, time and place.

In cases where communication is poor, one parent often tries to force an issue or discussion. It’s a point where confrontation can happen, and it’s particularly difficult because the children are obviously present. I’ve seen a lot of recorded visitation exchanges. Exchanges where the parents quibble over whether toys or clothes will come back with the child, or fight about sharing a winter coat. Exchanges where the parent takes an opportunity to push a particular agenda, or to force an issue.

It’s a pain point, in short, for a lot of families. And it’s understandable.

Obviously, in a custody and visitation case, it’s not always easy to set standards that both parties will agree about, but if your visitation exchanges are getting out of hand, it might be time to consider laying some ground rules.

Ban recording visitation exchanges.

In general, I think it’s a good idea to ban video recordings of visitation exchanges. If he won’t agree to refrain from this behavior, I’d take it up with my attorney, and insist that a provision of this kind be added either to a custody agreement or to a court order in my case. Most judges would agree that this is more harmful to the child than helpful to the parent’s case, especially if the recordings are offered as evidence at the hearing and don’t show you doing anything shocking. (Incidentally, if he is recording – keep that in mind! Refuse to engage, and do not blow up at him on the recording. Get your kids, or drop your kids off, and go – peacefully.)

Pick a set time and manner of communication.

If communication is an issue in your case, set a time and manner of communication in your agreement or court order.

Specify that communication related to the children will take place via email or text (something where there’s a written record). Specify that you’ll each check your email at periodic intervals (twice a week, or three times a week) and will respond to concerns related to the children there.

If you both know that you’ll be able to communicate regarding the important issues – and that there’ll be a record of all such communications – there will be no need to do so at the visitation exchange in front of the child.

Consider using Our Family Wizard.

Our Family Wizard is a coparenting program. You can join the community online, and it includes a portal for you and your child’s father to communicate – to text, to share calendars and other information, and even invite your attorney’s and GAL to participate.

It’s a great way to manage all the kid-related information and to keep everyone on the same page. It’s a place to contain all of your communication, to record important calendar events, and to share documents – like school picture, parent teacher conference, or sports schedule – with each other.

It’s not easy to handle visitation exchanges, but the more you can deal with the issues that come up, the better position you’ll be in long term.

Things don’t always stay as contentious as they start – thank goodness – but it is going to be important to set some standards, to minimize the friction now, and to pave the way for a better relationship as time goes on.

For more information, to request a copy of our free book, or to schedule a consultation, give us a call at 757-425-5200.