Most child custody cases can be resolved prior to going to trial. Negotiations between the parents and their attorneys or mediation, which is a form of alternate dispute resolution, can result in a parenting agreement, which is a written agreement outlining the couple’s decisions concerning all issues relevant to child custody and visitation.
It is also referred to as a settlement agreement or a custody agreement, and can consist of decisions regarding the principal decisions affecting the parents’ children, including, but not limited to:
- Who gets physical custody of the child, or with which parent the child will live
- Who gets legal custody of the child, or who will make important decisions regarding how the child is to be raised
- Visitation schedules
- With which parent the child will spend birthdays, vacations and major holidays
- Visitation with grandparents and family friends
- How to deal with any disputes that may arise
- How to handle any amendments to the agreement
Generally, the parenting agreement is submitted to a judge, who must give final approval. If the agreement is included in the parents’ divorce, it is filed in the same branch of state court in which the divorce petition was filed. Afterwards, there may be an informal court hearing in which the judge may question each party as to whether they fully comprehend, and willingly signed, the agreement. If the judge is convinced that each party voluntarily entered into the agreement, and considered the best interests of the child, the agreement will likely be approved by the court.
In the majority of states, the parenting agreement becomes a binding court order that stipulates the rights and obligations of the parents.
Each party must adhere to the agreement, and if one party violates it, the other party may go to court in order to ensure that the agreement is enforced.
If you are interested in learning more about parenting agreements, or have questions or concerns regarding child custody issues, you should consult an experienced family law attorney.