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Four Tips to Diffuse Tension At Parenting Time/Custody Exchanges

Every parent involved in parenting time and custody exchanges with their child(ren) and the other parent have had tense moments or disputes leading up to the exchange. Some parents feel pressure so great you can “cut it with a pair of scissors.” As each parent’s life has changed after divorce or paternity proceedings, logistics and time itself may make any deviation burdensome on the parents and breed hostility.

Nevertheless, in ordinary exchanges or those that follow disputes, there a three tried and true ways to avoid acrimony—which psychologist tell us is always sensed by the child, eroding his or sense of safety and security in their parents. If this is the situation you face, consider these three tips to diffuse tension. Courts embrace them and hope parents use them in the considering what is in their child’s best interests.1

Do something kind and unexpected. In a given exchange, particularly with a hostile build-up, think about a gift to the other spouse from the children. This can be simple, such as a copy of the children’s handiwork from school that day, a picture, or even a re-gifted gift. This may completely turn a tense situation into one where a parent is read to yell and scream at the other to one in front of the children to one that is really meaningful for the child who is reassured both parents still love them.

A second tip where the exchange may not be particularly tense, but to reassure the child he or she will still have an on-going relationship with the child, consider a transition toy that goes to and from each house. This is often a stuffed animal—the one the child is distraught without and favored over all other toys.

Third, if there is no way to avoid hostility, the best gift angry parents can give children is a few minutes of silence during the exchange. Clearly, the children still receive all other of the non-verbal cues that there is something going on, but it is better than a yelling match or chopping the other down with a war of words.

Finally, if there is no other solution or the (potentially hostile) exchange happens on the fly and there is no ability to improvise a calm exchange, do not engage the other parent. Like children, try redirection, such as what the children are doing at school, any particular hallmark reached, or something similar.

Obviously, this list provides just a few of the many options, but we hope these help you think about a peaceful—if not pleasant—parenting time or custody exchange. Your children deserve this, and ultimately, this will make each parent have a more meaningful relationship individually and collectively for the children. This blog post was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C., who practice throughout the state.


  1. Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines, Section II(C)(1)(Commentary)(1).
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