The term “visitation exchange” is an aspect of a child custody arrangement. Child custody arrangements are agreements between parents that specify when each parent has physical, or actual, custody of a child. The actual exchange, or passage, of custody, from one parent to another, is referred to as a “visitation exchange.”

What Kinds of Visitation Exchanges Involve Both Parents Being Present?

The word “exchange” simply means the passing of something to someone or somewhere else. In a basic visitation exchange, the parents agree that physical custody will “change hands” at a certain time and place (such as “7 PM, at the front curb.”). In such an arrangement, both parents are present, to ensure the exchange takes place. 

Parents may be unable to come to such an agreement by themselves. In that case, parents can seek an order from a court. In the order, the court will provide instructions for how, when, and where the exchange is to be made. If one parent violates the court order, that parent may be subject to >contempt of court. Contempt of court can result in a penalty. The penalty can be a fine, time in jail, or both.

Are There Other Kinds of Visitation Exchanges?

Sometimes, parents may desire to interact with each other as little as possible. In these instances, where frictions run high, a judge may order the visitation exchange to take place in a public area. This kind of visitation exchange, referred to as a public visitation exchange, is made to reduce the risk of altercation between the parents. In public areas, the presence of other individuals may relax tensions and prevent a fight between the parents from taking place. 

In other instances, parents may refuse to interact >at all. This makes it impossible for an exchange involving both parents’ presence to occur. In such instances, a parent can apply for an order from the court. The parent can request that the court order the exchange to take place by using a third party as an “intermediary.” In this kind of exchange, one parent, when their child custody time is “finished,” will drop off the child with a neutral person. 

Common examples of third party “neutrals” include child services and child protection agencies. In such an arrangement, the neutral person will stay with and care for the child for a brief period of time. The other parent will then “pick up” the child from the neutral person.

Regardless of the type of visitation exchange, a parent may be fined or jailed for contempt of court. For example, in the case of a public exchange, a parent may be held in contempt of court if that parent fails to appear with the child at the designated time. In cases where a neutral is used, a parent can be held in contempt of court. A parent can be held in contempt of court, for example, if they do not drop the child off with the neutral person at the agreed-upon time and place.

Why are Neutral Arrangements Used?

Parents who simply refuse to interact with each other may use a third party “neutral” to make the visitation exchange. In some instances, the law may require that the parents use a neutral, whether they wish to or not. These circumstances are ones involving issues with the child’s safety. 

For example, one parent may have a history of being physically or verbally abusive to the other parent. In such an instance, a judge may order that the parents use a neutral person to make the exchange, for the child’s own safety and welfare. 

What Does a Court Look at When Making a Visitation Exchange Order?

When a parent applies for a court order for visitation exchange, the judge is not free to make whatever order they want to. Rather, a judge, in deciding how to make the order, must consider whether the order is in the child’s “best interests.”  This means that the judge must make an order that takes into account the child’s mental and physical health, happiness, and overall well-being. 

The child’s best interests may change as the child grows older. For example, after a period of years, the child may wish to spend more time with one parent than the other. A judge, using the “child’s best interests” rule, must take this change of circumstances into account. A parent may also ask the judge to modify the order if the parent’s own circumstances have changed. 

For instance, one parent’s work schedule may change, requiring the parent to work on additional days. Parents can ask a court to modify the visitation exchange order based on the changed schedule. The court will take these circumstances into account when deciding to modify the order. However, the court, regardless of what facts have changed, must give primary consideration to what is into the child’s best interests, as opposed to what the parents want.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Visitation Exchange?

If you need to enter into, enforce, or modify a visitation exchange arrangement, you should contact a child visitation lawyer. An experienced child visitation lawyer near you can assist you with creation and enforcement of an order for visitation exchange. The lawyer can also assist you at your hearings and during court proceedings.