How do custody swaps get so contentious?

For the second time in less than 12 months a custody swap has ended with violence outside of a big chain outlet store, and I’m wondering what generally happens at these swaps and how they get so contentious.

From today’s AJC story: “Suwannee Police responded to a call around 4 p.m. Sunday about an argument between a man and woman in a Walmart parking lot. When police arrived on the scene they found the man and woman had been stabbed, apparently as a result of an argument, Cpt. Cass Mooney, a Suwanee police spokesman, told the AJC.”

“Two children were at the scene of a knife attack in Suwanee that left their mother dead, and their father awaiting charges.”

“The couple has been identified as Shelley Dyan Dunn, 27, of Buford and Phillip Chad Dunn, 28, of Lawrenceville.”

“ ‘The meeting was a custody exchange between the husband and wife,’ Mooney said. “At some point the husband pulled out a knife stabbing the wife and then himself.’ ”

Another custody swap ended in violence last April outside of a Target store but the husband wasn’t involved. Heather Strube, 25, had just picked up her 18-month-old son from her estranged husband, Steven Strube, outside of a Target store when she was shot by someone police say was wearing a wig and fake mustache. Police believe Strube’s mother-in-law Joanna Hayes was the one wearing the disguise.

From an October AJC story following the case: “Joanna Hayes has been charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, according to Roy Whitehead, Snellville police chief.  She is accused of shooting and killing her daughter-in-law, Heather Strube, on April 26  in the Scenic Highway store’s parking lot.”

“Steven Strube was ruled out as a suspect, police said in May, because he drove away before the shooting occurred. The child was not harmed.”

First of all, divorced couples please tell us why are all these custody swaps taking place outside of large chain stores? Why don’t they take place at the parent’s houses or friend’s houses?

Secondly, what in the heck happens during the swaps that violence breaks out in parking lots? What are you talking about that gets so heated? Is it big stuff about school or discipline or little nit-picky stuff about whether they ate well while at the other parent’s house?

Where do you meet to do your custody swaps? Where is a safer place to meet than outside large chain stores?  Should they be meeting inside police stations or police station parking lots? Is there a way to eliminate these types of situations?

Help us understand what generally happens at these types of custody swaps that can get so out of hand.

128 comments Add your comment


February 17th, 2010
6:39 pm

My ex and I live hundreds of miles apart and meet in public places out of necessity. We’ve always met at the most “civilized” exit closest to halfway as neither of us wants the other to wait at some desolate pulloff with no one around. Sadly, that seems to be safer than Walmart these days.

Liz - it's also because of abusive women/mothers

February 17th, 2010
6:51 pm

From personal experience with a neighbor, it’s not just abusive men/fathers — it’s also abusive women/mothers. I have witnessed first-hand the foul-mouthed rantings and threats of a neighbor’s ex-wife when she violated the public custody swap and came over to their house while I was there. It works both ways, let’s not forget…

February 17th, 2010
2:51 pm
There’s nothing here to wonder about. The indicator that custody is being changed over at a so-called “neutral” location is your evidence that a judge already has ordered timeshare for an abusive man who is too dangerous to pick up and drop off the children at the mother’s house.

What you should be wondering about is why there are custody exchanges at all under such circumstances.


February 17th, 2010
6:57 pm

This article was was written by monkeys with typewriters right? No-one could be that ignorant.

A woman is the victim in both instances and the writer wonders what prompted him to murder her? Try a violent and murderous nature. Who said that the victim contributed to her own death in any way?

Ask yourself why would the changeovers have had to occur in a car park in the first place.

susan v

February 17th, 2010
7:46 pm

There should never be any presumption of 50-50 custody. Children are not property..timeshares. Tell us, did you parent for 50% of the time during the marriage? And why should this be about YOU anyway. Courts should decide cases as individually and based on the merits. Whomever supports the child emotionally, is in contact with the teachers, packing the lunches, doing the hair, picking out the clothes–that person needs to continue what they are doing. Most kids have a bond that is closer to one parent, whether the parent chooses to acknowledge it or not. Kids need stability and a sense of continuity. Get over your NEED to have it your way. Go to Burger King instead.


February 17th, 2010
9:24 pm

After reading through some of these post and reading the original article, it’s obvious that there are some serious issues at play here.

Myself, I have a 9 year old daughter from a previous relationship (never married), I can tell you that there are so many issues at play here that it would take a couple of books just to get into some of them. So, in the interest of time, I’m going to share a couple very brief thoughts on the matter.

Before I do, let me first say that I DO NOT CONDONE violence in any way, form, or shape. So, if you’re looking for a justification, you wont find it here. My stories are my own and your stories may be very different. I’m not out to quote stats etc,. I’m simply sharing part of MY experience.

Having said that, let’s talk…..

The Bias is Blinding: If you’ve filled out enough forms, gone to enough hearings, and filed enough papers, you know one thing for sure. The system is fundamentally slanted towards the mother. The forms themselves tell the story to a point that when I went to file a motion as a father, the people providing the forms had to figure out how to do it since they weren’t ‘designed’ for be filled in by the non-custodial parent.

Another example of this is called the courts to request information about what forms, etc. should be completed to file a motion. I was told that I should seek legal advice from an attorney since they could not assist me in that way. Five minutes later, my current wife calls back to the same number and ask the same question. You think she was told to seek legal advice? Nope! She wasn’t. In fact, she was asked for her address where they actually forwarded her the forms she needed to fill out, with sticky notes/highlights indicating which parts to complete. Oh, they even sent a self-addressed/stamped envelope for her to return the forms in.

Okay, I’m sure that was just all in my mind, so I’ll share one more…..

Before a court order ever existed for my daughter, I wrote her mother and asked a simple thing. “What do you feel you need in order to take care of the baby?” It was just that plain and simple. My thinking was that she should be able to indicate something and we have a starting point for an arrangement. Her response to this was that she “shouldn’t have to tell me what to do for my baby.” She was open to receiving money, but angrily refused to have anything in writing saying that “if we got to have something in writing, we would have to go to court.” Of course, I informed her that it was well within her rights to go to the courts. I only asked that she be clear about one thing. “When you make this a legal matter, that’s what it becomes.”

One of the major problems for me is this notion that the man should play by the written rules only when it applies to him. If something happens that she doesn’t have the child ready for pick up for my visit, or doesn’t allow her to come at all, I should “be understanding”. When my visit is canceled because something came up with her family, I should “be understanding.” Yet, when I loose my job and can’t pay support on time, where’s the understanding?

That’s enough about this since it only causes me to think of just how corrupt this system really is. After all, it is a system based on adversarial relationships, fighting, and winners and losers. This notion of ‘fairness’ is NOT, I repeat NOT a part of what this system is about.

This system has to have a VILLAIN. Sadly, the father usually gets to play this role and unlike a criminal case, there are no Miranda Rights read to him. All he has id the opinion of some misinformed person in a robe that just started looking at his file five minutes before his hearing. Never mind that the decision he/she will hand-down will resonate with him for many years.

So, when the question is asked how these things happen, I choose to spin it around and ask why we are surprised. It’s common knowledge that the most dangerous and unpredictable creatures are those that feel trapped, injured, and with nothing left to lose.


February 17th, 2010
9:35 pm

Honestly, if a person wants 50/50 with respect to physical and legal custody, joint decision making, etc., well, then that person should stay married and in the same household with the other parent. Even with former spouses who get along, the logistics of a true 50/50 split are onerous and perhaps even impossible. Not to mention hard on the child. I cannot imagine my child swapping homes mid-month. The morning ride to get him to school from my X’s home would be a real trial for all involved. My X elected to walk away to seek “happiness”, then he chose to live outside of the school district, take work at odd hours, etc…all of which are not conducive to having a child living with him anyway. My X walked because he was too selfish to put the needs of his family ahead of his own, so not only would truly shared custody not be what he wants it would also be unfair to our child. At this point, if he spends 24 hours a month with our child it is a “good” month. Please.


February 17th, 2010
9:47 pm

Dar, I agree that 50/50 is one of those PC things that sounds good on paper, but it has little connection to real life. In my case, I never wanted 50/50. I simply want to be in a place where my value to the situation means more than just how much I can afford to pay at the risk of going to jail.

If a man doesn’t want to, or try to be part of the situation, I can only say that they have to answer for themselves; whatever that may mean.


February 17th, 2010
10:16 pm

Big-Grif – I wish you peace and happiness and hope that in the long run you and your child can have the relationship you both deserve. If only people could separate being a parent from being an ex-spouse the world would be a better place for all. Divorce is hard on all and for some it is something they can never “get over” so it spills into the business of co-parenting. 50/50 is not doable. I would never make huge decisions for my son (like changing schools, major medical, etc) without speaking to my X about it, but day to day stuff is my responsibility because my X is not here and life is just too fluid to stop and call him to discuss everything. As I said, he chose not to be part of this family so he can hardly fuss about not being included. And he pays a pittance toward our child’s upkeep so it certainly is not about the money (which I am putting in a bank account for when my child turns 18). Unfortunately, some Xs cannot move beyond and in some cases they are just violent people naturally….and in the end the children suffer even more.


February 17th, 2010
10:25 pm

Kudos to Big-Grif. I could not have said it any clearer. I am sure someone with an agenda can try to put a spin on what was said to suit themselves but it’s hard to argue what is.

Any doubts among you? Call any county courthouse and pose yourself as a male, non-custodial parent. Then, consider how such bias can and is exploited to suit one’s own ends. Oh, and re-read the last paragraph of Big-Grif’s first comment here afterwards. Be prepared for a reality check.


February 18th, 2010
9:02 am


February 18th, 2010
9:13 am
Inside the Minds of Family Annihilators


February 18th, 2010
2:25 pm

My estranged husband forced himself into my home twice, and locked me out of my own home once. He refused to leave the home and stayed overnight once. He swiped items from inside my home. Under the guise of bringing my son’s belongings inside or coming in to get him. He imposed himself in other ways, making demands for money for instance, because at my home no one but my kids and myself were there, so he “could” get away with it. Public places are used to swap kids over to discourage this sort of behavior. Because there are witnesses. Without a videocam of being beaten or trespassed upon, it’s his word against her word and sometimes evidence cannot even be introduced. It is very hard to prove that a spouse has not acted properly with evidence that can actually legally be submitted. If the person is sneaky about the abuse, it’s all the easier to get away with it. Believe me, I prefer meeting in public places, after some of the stunts my husband pulled.


February 18th, 2010
4:23 pm

I am sure that there are people of questionable sanity and intentions on both sides of this argument. Bias and injustice in the administration of family law taxes the sanity of everyone involved, effectively pushing over those who are teetering on the edge. To offer overwhelming support and guidance to one side while discriminating against and ignoring the other exacerbates the issue. Levelling the playing field and offering guidance and support to both parties in a domestic conflict would certainly have a positive effect on the outcome but would this not be to the detriment to the administrators of family law? There lies the real question.


February 18th, 2010
4:44 pm

In this particular case, there is history but no intervention. This leads to a tragic outcome. You can then read this blog and see the views of both sides of this tragedy, but little by way of understanding. The DV people see this as justification for their position, parties on each side voicing their opinions and experiences, which reads as little more than finger-pointing and shunning of responsibility. The majority of cases of family estrangement, especially those that lead to DV, require an aggressor AND an enabler. Neither sex is exempt from either title.Once we as a society can accept this fact and stop the finger pointing, we would be more willing to accept and effect a solution to the problem. Until then, we can entertain ourselves watching the evening news and thanking our lucky stars that it didn’t happen to us…yet.


February 18th, 2010
5:22 pm

Nice feedback, WERA74. Thanks for sharing.

After writing what I inteneded to be a very short statement last night, it’s obviously stirred something within me concerning this matter as people really seem to NOT get it when it comes to how these situations evolve.

As I’ve said before, there are lots of elements at play and I don’t pretent to understand them all. I can only speak from my own experience. Fortunately for me, that experience is something I don’t find the need to defend, justify, make excuses for, or feel beat-up about. It’s simply my experience.

Having said that, I wanted to share something today that follows up on my earlier comments.

In the early years of my child-custody situation, I started reading case law to understand better how the system worked. What I found were some very disturbing trends which reflect my own experiences; some of which I’ve outlined previously. One of the things that stands out at this point is the phrase “The Best Interest of the Child.”

To me the phrase is the most abusive in the english language. It sounds good and in all likelyhood started off with noble intent. Sadly, it has become an umbrella that shades some of most pathetic decisions concerning that child possible. Mothers use it, judges use it…..heck, almost everybody gets to use it. What does it mean? How do you measure it? Is it in a Child’s Best Interest to go to private school? Is it in a Child’s best interest to ride in a Mercedes? What about designer clothes? Are those in a child’s best interest?

The truth is, the phrase “The Best Interest of the Child” is a license to do anything. So long as the word ‘Child’ can be put in the same paragraph with it, it must be okay.

By now, you may ask, “Where’s the example?” I’m glad you ask.

I requested custody of my daughter when she was around two or three years of age. After making my case, the judge ordered that we attend an evaluator to get a better understanding of the case. (NOTE: This hearing was about 10 minutes)

After several meetings with the evaluatuator, her findings were released back to the court. Since I represented myself, I drove the five hours to the court just to read the findings. Here’s what it basically said (10 pages total):

Mother – Appears to suffer from depression, anxiety, or a combination of the two. Does not seem to understand boundaries which causes conflict with the father since he tends to refuse arguing and instead chooses to take a position about the issue and leave it at that. (Recommendation) Court should order mother to have an evaluation based on these findings to further determine her fitness.

Father – Father interacts well with the child and appears to lean towards structured play. The father would seem to ensure that the child is well rounded and exposed to many different experiences.

(That’s it) Yes! In less than three sentences, I was determinded to be a decent person that would do well raising my daughter.

Court Findings – (Hold Your Breathe – You know this will SHOCK you.) It is the determination of this court that the FATHER is the main reason for the communications problems in this situation and he is hereby ordered to attend a Parenting Class within the next 30-days to better his communications skills.

All that was determined in less than 10-minutes, compared to five hours with an evaluator.

So, having said all that, which of you ladies would like to tell me what I might have been feeling as I left that courtroom? Was I happy, sad, angry, violent, frustrated, or all of the above? I mean, where was my justice? Where was The Best Interest of the Child?

Oh, before I let you go….. add to this the phone message I got after leaving court from the mother saying “See, I knew there was something wrong with you. Even the JUDGE said there was something wrong with you. I hope you enjoy that class!”

So, now, on top of the rulling itself, this father is taunted by the mother that now feels validated, justified, and emboldened by the courts.


February 19th, 2010
12:04 pm

@ Big-Grif: Man, that is a bunch of BS if I may say. What idiot judge did they give your case to? Did the judge even read the paperwork from the evaluator? Even though I am a mother that is going through it with my ex husband, I do believe and know that the family law system is beyond corrupt. And I am on the better end of it. If my ex were reasonable like you, I would not have any problems with him. But my ex is malicious and he continues to get away with whatever he wants to because the system allows him to. And to make matters worse, I don’t know if the courts purposely turn a blind eye to this fact or not, but if the judges really sat and listened to the reasons why I have taken my ex to court, they would quickly realize that it has nothing to do with our children, but every thing to do with my ex-husband trying to get to me. My ex has made it clear to me several times that he wants me back and that he wants to “start over” and he has even gone so far as to tell me that “I will come back to him”. Keep in mind that we have been divorced for almost 5 years. And for my ex to still be pursuing me this hard after 5 years is a little bit disturbing to say the least. I mean, to me, that is not normal or healthy especially after I have made it plain and clear to him that I would NEVER take him back. Period. There was never any confusion about that. But the judges, they already have a pre-judgement about what your case is, and to some extent, they have already made up in their mind how they are going to rule even before you say anything, if you even get to say much of anything (I know that from personal experience).


February 19th, 2010
9:52 pm

TJ, I agree. that it’s BS, but it’s true. He obviously hadn’t looked at the paperwork, given it any thought, or deliberated to any degree on the issues at hand. So, with little ado, he decided the direction of a child’s life.

Guess we should just be happy people like this aren’t holding the keys to the nuclear arsenal.

susan v

February 21st, 2010
9:47 am

Custody evaluators are people, just like judges…they don’t have any form of supreme knowledge, they have the power that people and the court system GIVE to them. You are fools for believing anything that most of them say. What makes someone more qualified than the actual people involved, to make decisions about your child?

Also, going back to what the custody evaluator did say, I can see where the judge would be right–try to look at it this way: “and instead chooses to take a position about the issue and leave it at that.”

it could be taken to mean that you are NOT open to negotiation aka you are a narcissist and like to have things YOUR way.

Surely you felt disappointed afterward, hurt, sad…but violent? If you felt violent that is YOUR issue to deal with. You aren’t justified in feeling violent. And for those who do feel that way, they should just kill themselves.

Refocus you energies on your child. Your pain is irrelevant…that’s what we learn in CHILDBIRTH. You see how far behind some men are?


February 21st, 2010
9:56 pm

Susan V. you obviously have some issues that cause your ability to comprehend what I’ve written to be clouded. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you were and “Angry Woman” that plays right into the hostile nature of the courts.

Did the judge determine there was a problem with me before, during, or after the whole five minutes I stood before him? From the tone of your response as well as other post, I would be the ‘VILIAN’ no matter what the situation is.

One other point, since I generally don’t respond to people that appear to lack a certain degree of intelligence, having a baby does NOT mean you are somehow a competent person. It does NOT mean you have mastered child-rearing, nor does it mean you represent the BEST interest of the child.

Wounded Warrior

February 23rd, 2010
6:45 pm

do you want to compromise and stay togther, or be right and be alone? don’t forget that Jerry Seinfield started dating his wife, while she was married to someone else. So, maybe he is doing this from experience?


February 25th, 2010
3:05 pm

Susan V, what is more detrimental to a child’s health and well-being, a mother who suffers from depression and/or anxiety, or a father who would ensure that a child is well rounded and avoids arguing by taking a position on an issue and “leaving it at that”?

it does not take rocket science to figure out what is in play here. Sadly, this line of thinking pervades the Family Court system. It is my experience that such thinking is quite detrimental to “the best interests of (the child), but politics play a greater role in Family court than reason and logic.


February 27th, 2010
4:00 pm

WERA74, thanks for making your point. You’re right in saying that the ‘best interest’ of the child are not always served. What’s worse is that the way the situation is handled usually leaves one part feeling violated, isolated, and angry.

Fortunately, in my case, I chose to channel my engergy into finishing my college degree, volunteering, and moving on with my life to the extent that I could without being totally cut off from my daughter.


February 28th, 2010
7:40 am

My child support payments to my ex-wife go for:

1) gasoline for her houseboat
2) feed and care for her horses
3) gasoline and expenses for maintaining a RV

Strange to say, however, that when it has come to spend money for her children’s college education, she’s broke.

And if and when one makes a verbal agreement with this lady, she can change her mind, seize your money using the power of the State of Georgia just because she says so, and use the police state of the Office of Child Support Services to threaten you with jail.

So much for the courts favoring women.


February 28th, 2010
8:45 pm

OedipusTax, as extreme as your post may seem, I am forced to believe it happens just as you describe. Makes you wonder why people are suprised when someone finally flips out and loses control.

The really crazy part about it is these women know they play the system. Some of them even flaunt it in your face as if it’s some sort of crazy game.


March 6th, 2010
8:21 am

When you dig deep, alot of the problems this country has are the liberals legislating rules that make it more attractive to women to single mothers than to stay in stable families. You can get heathcare and food stamps and welfare and that looks like a better deal than staying with bubba car mechanic if you can also cat around all night. A couple of posters here are right when they say these people shouldn’t reproduce. Well that can’t happen, but not using your tax dollars to support all this foolishness can. People who grow up and stab each other in WalMart parking lots are from a long line of uneducated rabble. So think about where your money goes and the breakdown of society and morals you are encouraging next time you vote. Democrats love to keep giving your money to trash. If they cut that off, the prevalence of these types of scenarios would decline. You send a message that’s its o.k to spend billions of our tax dollars on welfare and healthcare for people who are non productive and contribute nothing but more misery and low I.Q. to the gene pools when you vote for these clowns.


March 9th, 2010
3:51 pm

Jbgotcha- It is not a myth that that courts favor women it is statiscal fact. I myself was told “the child needs to be with his mother, you may be better financially suited to support him however he belongs with his mother thus the high amount of child support.” by the judge. Now tell me who he favors? I get to pay increased child support but because I have a penis I can’t raise my son? Now he lives in a not so great part of town (I have no say in that either) and I get him every other weekend. But hey she drives a REALLY NICE car that she bought after she got her first check for child support!! Despite all this I would never try to hurt much less kill my ex.


March 12th, 2010
5:01 pm

@JM, I know what you mean. Not long after my daughter’s mother started getting support, she was able to move from an apartment into a home AND buy a much newer car. I’m sure all that was for the interest of the child like everything else.

As I often say, a mother could bring the head of the child to court and walk out with it still under her arm. All the time saying she knows what’s best to do with it.

Autism Custody Battles

August 11th, 2010
5:14 pm

Family Courts Best Kept Secret: Say that the father abusing the kids and you will lose custody to the abuser: