Educational Resources Parenting Time & Decision Making

Why Parents Shouldn’t Use the Cop Shop for Kid Hand-Offs

Written by Russell Alexander / (905) 655-6335

Why Parents Shouldn’t Use the Cop Shop for Kid Hand-Offs 

Most parenting arrangements include regularly-scheduled hand-offs of the child. Whether court-ordered or by agreement, and whether weekly or some other period, separated and divorced parents must work together to hand physical custody of the child from one parent to the other. This requires them to meet on schedule at a specified time and place – such as the front porch of one of their homes, or some public place like a shopping mall food court, coffee shop, or a Walmart parking lot.

In a recent decision, Justice Pazaratz vehemently rails about how police stations are a poor parental choice for these exchanges.  He began the ruling this way: 

[1]               Please, Please, Please…don’t use a police station for parenting exchanges.

[2]               If you think mere proximity to the cop shop will make unruly adults behave – or protect children from emotional harm – you should have sat in on any one of the 22 days of this nasty trial.

[4]               [The parents] love their son and hate each other.

[5]               They really love their son. 

[6]               And really hate each other.

[7]               We delude ourselves if we think court orders will ever overcome such powerful and conflicting emotions.

All we can really do is try to separate the good from the bad.

Promote more opportunities for the love.

And eliminate any opportunities for the hate.

[8]               But routinely sending combative parents with their anguished children to a police station is an abdication of responsibility.

It’s like assembling a bomb every week and driving it to the fire hall.

Sure, it’s nice to know first responders will be on the scene if there’s an explosion.

But why set the stage for predictable disaster?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to defuse the bomb ahead of time?  To keep volatile ingredients – volatile parents – as far apart as possible? 

One of Justice Pazaratz’s main concerns was that – perhaps counterintuitively – the police station is not a truly “safe” spot for handing off a child to the other parent.  Police are busy with other duties, and the physical premises themselves are not child-friendly.  There may not even be any police officers in sight, at the hand-off time.  

Importantly, Justice Pazaratz pointed out that while the location might “scare” adults into behaving well during hand-offs, the whole scenario could be downright terrifying for the child. As the Justice explained:

[10]           And if we’re choosing a location intended to intimidate adults – what about scaring the kids?

By the time high conflict couples make it to family court, their children have already been exposed to far too much chaos and upset. 

[11]           What message do police station exchanges convey to the innocent child?

That the trouble’s not over?

That their world isn’t safe yet?

That they still need to worry?

That someone they love is dangerous or can’t be trusted?

That something bad could happen every time their parents meet?

That officers with weapons might have to intervene? 

That one of their parents might get taken away or hurt or punished?

That every transition between parents will be anxiety-producing?

How is a fragile young mind supposed to process so much upsetting information?

[12]           Candidly, far too little thought goes into selecting a police station for pick-ups and drop-offs.  It’s a simplistic, convenient default position.

It’s an option if you can’t think of anything else.

It’s always open.  You don’t have to re-arrange your schedule

It’s free.

It’s quick. 

There’s no waiting list. It’s available instantly and for as long as you want.

There’s no paperwork or pre-arrangement.

There’s usually free parking or bus service.

It requires little effort and not much parental insight or discipline.

It’s open even during the pandemic.

It checks off a lot of boxes for adults.

[13]           But how is any of this child-focused? 

We are constantly told that the best interests of the child must always prevail over adult preference and convenience. 

Why then do we gravitate toward this obviously terrible option, simply because adults lack the creativity or commitment to work at better solutions?

… The presence of police officers isn’t calming.  To the contrary, it reinforces the child’s perception of imminent danger.

[15]           Why am I starting this judgment with such a strong warning?  Because this trial could have been avoided – and a four-year-old boy could have had a much happier life – if only the parents had selected an exchange location better than Hamilton Police Station 30.

Justice Pazaratz’s decision goes on to address and resolve the parents’ numerous legal disputes in detail, in an extensive ruling spanning more than 475 paragraphs. Hopefully the key message got through.

K.M. v. J.R., 2022 ONSC 111 (CanLII)

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.