What is ‘supervised custody exchange’ and how does it work?

parent walking with child

One of the most emotionally fraught parts of a divorce can be the “custody exchange” in which one parent hands the child off to the other. If there’s a lot of unresolved emotional pain and recrimination left over from a marriage that didn’t work out, it can make for a tense or even explosive situation.

If the thought of encountering your ex-spouse or partner while handing off your kids creates anxiety or even fear, you should discuss with a local family attorney the possibility of a supervised custody exchange.

Also known as a “safe exchange” or “monitored exchange,” this is when a third party is present at the exchange to help ensure a smooth handoff. In some situations, this person can facilitate the handoff so that the parents do not encounter each other at all. This not only protects parents from one another, it can help keep the child from witnessing ugly, potentially traumatizing conflict.

The most common way to arrange this is through a court order, and your attorney can help you make the case to the judge that this is a good idea. The court determines who is to serve as the supervisor. It could be a trusted friend or relative of the requesting parent or a professional that the family hires (the court may want to make sure that the supervisor is someone trained to handle a contentious situation without escalating it by taking sides).

Additionally, the court can order the exchange to happen at a designated public meeting spot, like a library or a school. In some instances, the court might feel most comfortable ordering the exchange to occur at an “exchange center”: a facility run by the local government or a private organization that is set up for this purpose.

Supervised custody exchanges also do not necessarily need to be ordered by the court. Parents can decide to do this on their own if they both agree. In those instances, it’s still a good idea to have the details included in your parenting plan. A good lawyer can help craft this in a way that a judge is likely to accept.

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