As I checked the local news, one story in particular caught my eye. The headline read, “Jackson County sets up two safe exchange spots.” Proposed by an employee in the county prosecutor’s office who believed a safe exchange place would have been beneficial in her personal experience, the county commissioners bought into this idea, installing signage and providing 24-hour surveillance at two police department locations. Jackson County’s purpose was to ensure some modicum of safety in dealing with child custody disputes. However, the idea is not the first of its kind. In fact, this potential co-parenting tool began as a mechanism for commerce.
With the high incidence of online transactions on Ebay, Craigslist, Facebook Yard Sale and others necessitating in person meetings, states across the country including Michigan, Virginia, Louisiana, and California to name a few, began creating “Safe Exchange Zones” or similarly named locations. The idea is to discourage fraud and violence during transactions by assuming that those engaged in or planning to engage in such activities would not choose to do so at a police department. In addition, the added protection of surveillance could up the ante on potential criminal activity arrests.
But it was soon realized that these safe locations also could be used in child custody disputes to surveil any potential domestic violence or custody issues. Police departments nationwide began to realize that safe zones may be the ideal solution to emotionally charged situations and began advertising them as such. Soon, these safe zones were deemed dual purpose and have been on the rise over the past five years. Online research indicates that more safe zones are popping up at police departments and the call from the public is for additional zones in more cities and municipalities across the country.
Are safe zones the answer to dealing with high conflict personalities in custody disputes? Often in divorce cases where children need to be shuttled between parents, a judge or mediator will appoint an intermediary to act as the go-between in custody exchanges. I have known people in the past who have acted as intermediaries in volatile custody situations. The intermediary would meet up with one parent and walk the child to meet up with the other parent thus deterring any untoward behavior between the individuals involved. Did it work? Yes, in one case it it worked soundly for about 13 years. But could safe zones be the new answer to the age old issue of emotionally charged situations without the use of an actual human intermediary?
Opponents say that safe zones are ripe for additional violence, that no safe place will deter a party from causing harm if they have a mind to do so. They argue that this trend is dangerous because only human interaction can institute the safety protocols necessary to reduce or prevent the risk of violence. According to some, these exchange zones may work for merchandise but they never should be used as a safe place to exchange children because children are a much more valuable commodity.
Still, proponents attest that any additional safety precautions in emotionally charged environments is never a bad thing. Custody exchanges in well-lit, surveilled, police department parking lots provide more security than is usually available for the everyday exchange. These elements also come with the component of police protection that is available should anything go awry.
While the interest in safety zones increases, the discussion will continue as to whether this idea will combat family conflicts and potentially decrease anxiety and even violence in custody exchanges.
If you are interested in locating a safe exchange zone in your community, you can search “Safe Deal Zone” online. Or if you are interested in creating a zone in your community, contact your local police department for information.