What To Do When Child Exchanges Become Violent
Sharing parenting time with an ex-spouse will not always be easy, but most parents figure out how to navigate this challenging arrangement for the sake of their child. One of the more frequent triggers of conflict is the child exchange. The time, place, and manner of this exchange is typically outlined in the parenting plan so there is no question about when and where this transfer will occur. Beyond the logistics, though, consistently seeing a person that likely triggers feelings of failure and other negative emotions is hard enough alone, but when you factor in the volatile issue of child custody, these encounters can easily become heated. Sometimes, hostility can be fueled by a parent who thinks he/she does not have a fair amount of parenting time with the child or disagrees with childrearing decisions by other parent, and wants to express this frustration in an aggressive way, sometimes leading to tragic results. Regardless of the reason, though, dealing with constant conflict is harmful to the parents’ ability to share responsibility, and more importantly, can have a negative effect on the child. A discussion of how to address problematic child exchanges will follow below.
Modify Parenting Plan
The best course of action to take if child exchanges are a legitimate concern is to request a modification of the parenting plan. Depending on the severity of the situation, it may be possible to obtain a temporary emergency order that immediately restricts or eliminates the other parent’s parenting time. However, the court will still hold a full hearing shortly thereafter to determine if the order should be made permanent or whether the parties should return to the previous arrangement. To justify a modification of the parenting plan, the party requesting the change will need to show a substantial, material and unanticipated change that calls for modification as being in the best interests of the child. The change needs to be permanent or near-permanent in nature and be unable to be anticipated at the time of the original parenting plan. Further, and most importantly, the modification needs to be in the best interests of the child, the benchmark for all child-related decisions. The standard for modification does leave the court a lot of discretion to grant or deny these petitions, and will require convincing the court the present arrangement is not serving the child’s interests or welfare.
Best Interests of the Child
There are no hard and fast rules on what a court will automatically determine to be in a child’s best interests, but circumstances that tend to persuade a judge to take action include:
- Physical and emotional safety – whenever the physical, emotional, or psychological health of the child is threatened, as it would be in violent and volatile custody exchanges, courts almost universally agree that putting the child in a safe environment is of the utmost importance.
- Consistency in routine – courts generally do not favor moving a child from one parent to the other, disrupting the child’s schedule, or moving him/her away from friends and activities. Thus, this interest goes against modification, and must be overcome with compelling evidence why this should not be paramount.
- Involvement of both parents – courts greatly encourage the involvement of both parents, and rarely cut off or reduce a child’s ability to see a parent absent evidence is unable to safely care for the child. Violent behavior would suggest he/she cannot.
- Family connections – if a child has close ties with extended family members, e., grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc., while not a primary factor, a court will take it into consideration, and requests that would remove a child these relationships may not be approved.
Child custody disputes are complicated, and can quickly escalate out of control. To protect your child, and your rights as a parent, talk to an experienced family law attorney who can advise on your legal options. Joyce Julian brings years of experience helping Florida families get the results they want and deserve. Contact our Fort Lauderdale law firm for a free consultation.