Child Custody Agreements

Reaching an Agreement

When you’re reaching an outside of court agreement on custody, you maintain control over the process. You’re the one who’s driving the negotiations. You have the ability to come up with creative scheduling. You know your spouse’s schedule and your schedule and your child’s schedule and come up with something that isn’t as dry as week on, week off, because that doesn’t suit your schedule well.

When you’re maintaining control over that process, when you’re agreeing outside of court – you have the ability to do some creative scheduling. Say one parent has a very aggressive work travel schedule. You come up with a basic schedule that allows for some sort of make-up days. Or maybe you just have a funky schedule compared to what everybody else thinks is a normal schedule.

But when you maintain control over that process, you’re driving those negotiations and you’re able to keep your hand on the pulse of what’s going on, you’re not just passing it off to the judge. This also tends to make the parents stay more amicable. As soon as that lawsuit is filed, and you begin the process of trial preparation. We’ve noticed that the gloves come off at that point. The parents tend to break down any ability that they previously had to communicate and be co-parents ceases as soon as that lawsuit is filed.

The more that you’re able to stay outside of the courtroom, work on putting the child first, reaching an agreement that’s going to be great for the child, and workable for you guys–the better you will be in terms of a child custody standpoint.

What Goes In Child Custody Agreements?

So now that we’ve talked about the need for a custody agreement, let’s talk about what needs to go in the agreement. We’ve talked about:

  • how you need to have a schedule, ensuring that you address what is the regular custodial schedule and address the holiday schedule.
  • the legal requirements
    • it needs to be in writing,
    • you need to sign it, and
    • you need to have the signature notarized.

Now, we’re going to talk a little bit more about what else needs to go in that custodial agreement.

First, you need to define the terms. You need to define in your agreement what does joint custody mean? What does sole custody mean? What does visitation mean? You need to make sure anything that you use consistently in that agreement, any term you’ve defined in that agreement.

You can create your own definitions. You’re not bound by anything, there’re no statutes that require you to consider joint custody be one thing, and sole custody to be another. We’re going to talk about that terminology here shortly but you need to know that in your agreement, you should at a minimum, define what you and the other parent agree that these certain terms mean.

Outside of scheduling, the regular custodial schedule and the holiday schedule, you also want to address certain miscellaneous terms, or miscellaneous provisions. Perhaps you want to include something like a right of first refusal that basically allows the other parent first dibs on babysitting if it’s your custodial time and you have something that keeps you from watching the children.

Say you have a work related event that takes place at night, and it’s your custodial time. If you had a right of first refusal, that’s going to allow the other parent to be the first person you call to babysit before you reach out to a third party caregiver–a babysitter or someone like that. So, that’s something that some people like to include in a custody agreement.

You may want to include a provision about who’s going to maintain control over the child’s important documents:

  • Who’s going to keep control over that birth certificate?
  • Who’s going to keep control over the social security card,
  • a passport if a child has that?

If you have a provision in the agreement, then there’s no question or confusion as to who’s going to control those documents. And then that provision can go further and say that parent has to share them with the other parent, and provide copies upon demand. So it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re shut out from those documents, but you want to at least address who’s going to have control over those documents.

Another miscellaneous provision that some people will include in the agreement is some information or some language about overnight guests–e.g.: if you start dating someone, if there’s a new romantic interest in your life, or if your other parent starts dating someone and they want to start bringing that person around the child.

Within your agreement, you can put certain parameters on that. You can say, “No one is permitted to have an overnight guest of the romantic type while the child is there, until they’ve been dating that person consistently for 6 months – or even a year.” Again, we’re back to this idea where you’re driving this, you have the creativity, you can make these creative provisions and you control what goes in this agreement.

You can make it as bare bones as you want it, or you could include some of these provisions I’ve talked about. But at a minimum, you want to define your terms and have a schedule and address holidays. Those are the 3 basic things you need to make sure that you include in your agreement. From there, you can go on and include various other peripheral clauses–any sort of miscellaneous provision that would be well suited for your situation.

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