Exchanges: Where, When, How?

The How-To Guide to Co-Parent Exchanges

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Exchanging children between households is a common reality after divorce, especially when parents have shared (joint) custody as mandated by the court. Unfortunately, high-conflict situations can make these exchanges difficult, often causing distress for the children involved.

Having witnessed many challenging and even abusive exchanges, we've created this guide to support you through the complexities of post-divorce parenting. The advice offered here will depend on your specific circumstances, including your children's ages, summer schedules, school arrangements, and other relevant factors.

Let's begin with the simplest exchanges: those that occur at school.

School is the ideal place for child exchanges. The parent with whom the child spent the night takes them to school, and the other parent picks them up. This arrangement minimizes conflict as parents do not have to see each other, eliminating opportunities for arguments or confrontations.

However, this peaceful exchange method isn’t always available. During summer and school breaks, the routine is disrupted. Additionally, if a child is sick, school-based exchanges can become complicated.

Also, some children aren't school-aged. This means the possibility for more interaction and often more frequent exchanges.

When School Exchanges Aren't An Option and Your Ex is Picking Up The Children

School isn't always an option for exchanging joint physical custody. How can you minimize the chance of conflict during exchanges? While some parents opt to exchange at police stations, I don't believe this is always the best approach. Despite the setting, the abuse cycle can persist, as we've seen with some of our members who have experienced harassment even in the police station parking lot.

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My preferred location for exchanges is a standalone Starbucks (or similar establishment). Here’s a strategy to eliminate almost all chances of confrontation when you have the children and are handing them over to your ex:

  1. Arrive Early: Get to Starbucks ahead of time to settle in.
  2. Choose Your Spot: Sit away from the door but where you have a clear view of it.
  3. Face the Door: Position yourself so you can see when your ex arrives.
  4. Position the Kids: Have the kids sit facing you, away from the door.
  5. Watch for Arrival: Starbucks has glass doors, allowing you to easily spot your ex approaching.
  6. Send the Kids: As soon as your ex reaches the door, send the kids to them if they can walk.
  7. Observe: Watch the children head to your ex from across the room, ensuring the exchange happens smoothly and with minimal direct interaction.

Why the Starbucks Exchange Works:

Starbucks has daily store hours that are conducive to exchanges most anytime. Their stand-alone buildings have glass door entrances. They are generally located in good areas of town. They are public. Kids and adults can be comfortable there while waiting. There are usually lots of people there which keeps the narc from going into attack mode.

If you don't have a Starbucks, then look for a similar establishment with the same features. You want something that is highly frequented by the public. You want something where you can hang out for 10+ minutes. You want a place that has a high visibility entrance so you can see your ex approaching.

What About When You're Picking Up The Children?

Much of the same advice goes for the days you're picking up the children. Find a public place like Starbucks. Get there early and enter the shop. Position yourself as far from the front door as possible. When you see the children approaching, stand up so they can see you as they enter. If your ex lets them run to you then that is great. If not, use plan B.

Plan B - Your Ex Won't Send the Children to You at Starbucks

Narcs love the show. They try to show the world what an amazing parent they are. Exchanges are an opportunity for the narc to spread their plume and strut around like a proud peacock. If your ex is to hand over the children and doesn't send the children as outlined above, I want you to walk over to the barista counter and ask them this question. "Do you make any special drinks for kids?" The Barista will probably rattle off their kid's drinks. Pay 100% attention to the barista while noticiing where your ex is and your children. When the children approach, bend down and tell them about the drinks that you just heard about. If your ex speaks to you, then gently say, "no thank you." and take the kids' hands and head back to your table.

What If You Have Babies or Very Young Children?

Babies can't walk over to the other parent, so this one is a little tougher....for now. Once they grow up a bit, they will be able to do the "Starbucks Method" but for now exchanges can be a little tougher.

You want to set appropriate boundaries for yourself to protect yourself as much as possible from the abuse. I still like exchanges at Starbucks for small children and babies and I advise that the exchanges be done INSIDE the restaurant.

The truth is that this is a very complex issue and there isn't an easy solution.

When a teenager decides to stay with a narcissistic ex instead of returning to the parent with full physical and legal custody things become very challenging, very quickly. At this age, teenagers often seek freedom and may rebel against rules and responsibilities, finding a more lenient environment appealing. The narcissistic ex may encourage this rebellion, using it to undermine the other parent's authority.

Here are some strategies to help manage this situation:

  • Keep Communication Open: Maintain open, non-confrontational communication with the teenager. Express love and concern for their well-being, and emphasize that the rules are in place to ensure their safety and future success.
  • Counseling and Mediation: Consider involving a family counselor or mediator to facilitate discussions. A neutral third party can provide a safe space for the teenager to express their feelings and for the parent to explain their perspective.
  • Seek Legal Advice: Consult with an attorney to explore legal options that support custody rights. Ensure all actions are within the legal framework and focused on the teenager’s best interests.
  • Highlight the Positives: Focus on the benefits and positive aspects of staying with the custodial parent, such as academic support, extracurricular activities, and a stable environment.
  • Avoid Confrontation with the Ex: Minimize direct confrontations with the narcissistic ex. This reduces the chance of escalating conflicts and keeps the focus on strengthening the relationship with the teenager.
  • Support Network: Lean on a support network of friends, family, and professionals for guidance and encouragement during this time.
  • Documentation: Keep detailed records of all interactions and attempts to bring the teenager back to the custodial parent. This documentation can be invaluable if legal issues arise.

Remember, if this is happening to you, your ex is eating up all of the juicy supply he/she is getting. Chaos, triangulation, flying monkeys and hurting you gives them what they crave.

Reach out to Will today for coaching to help you deal with your narcissist ex!