A Brief Guide to Parenting Agreements

In many child custody cases, the parents are able to come together before the case even needs to be heard in court. This scenario can occur for you as well if you and your child’s other parent are willing to negotiate.  

This scenario can take place as a result of negotiations between you and your ex-spouse through a variety of ways.  You can negotiate between yourselves with the help of your attorneys or through mediation. 

What is a Parenting Agreement?

If you and your child’s other parent are in a custody disagreement and are able to resolve all the issues that relate to visitation and child custody, you will then put your decisions down in writing. 

This agreement between you and the child’s other parent is called a parenting agreement. In some states, it is referred to as a custody agreement or settlement agreement. 

Court Approval and Parenting Agreements

Once you and your child’s other parent puts your agreement down in writing, this agreement is normally given to the judge for the court’s final approval. There may be an informal court hearing, where the judge may ask you some questions, including whether you and the child’s other parent understand the agreement and are signing voluntarily. 

As long as the judge believes that you and your child’s other parent were fair in your negotiations (and crafted your agreement in the best interest of your child), they will almost always get court approval. 

What if the Court Approved Parenting Agreement is Violated?

In many states, the parenting agreement becomes binding on both you and your child’s other parent once the court approves it. You and your child’s other parent must adhere to the parenting agreement. 

If either you or your child’s other parent violates the agreement, you may end up in court to enforce it and resolve the issue. 

What Do You Put into a Parenting Agreement?

Your parenting agreement should have all the information that you and your child’s other parent need to properly raise your child after you separate. 

The general provisions in your parenting agreement should contain the following:

  1. A schedule that outlines parenting time for each of you. 
  2. The ways you and your child’s other parent will make decisions for your child
  3. Financial and expense information
  4. Rules regarding how your child will be raised
  5. Any other information you and the other parent feel is important 

You and your child’s other parent should personalize your parenting agreement, so that it fits the needs of your child, works for your family, and benefits no one but your child. 

Parenting Time Schedules

Your schedule that outlines parenting time should include:

  • A schedule that shows where your child will be living on weekdays and weekends 
  • A schedule for holidays
  • School break and vacation schedule
  • Special events that define times when the normal schedule may change

Decision-making Responsibilities

Below are different ways you and your child’s other parent can share and/or divide your decision-making responsibilities:

  • One of you has the only authority to make decisions for your child.
  • Both you and the child’s other parent can make big decisions individually.
  • You and the child’s other parent make big decisions together.
  • Each of you is responsible for certain types of decisions.
  • When you or your child’s other parent is with the child, they make the decisions for the child.

Expenses and Finances

In many states, you will have to file any child support documents with your parenting agreement. You can come up with a plan for the way you and your child’s other parent will handle any additional expenses for your child, and you should put this information into your parenting agreement.  This information should include any school activity expenses or other things child support may not cover. 

Parenting Provisions and Rules

You and the child’s other parent may decide to put additional parenting provisions and rules into your parenting agreement, in order to make your individual custody arrangement work more efficiently. These provisions may include:

  • Right of First Refusal, which gives you and your child’s other parent the right to have the child if the other parent needs childcare
  • Information regarding transportation to and from child exchanges
  • Each parent must provide the other parent with an itinerary if you travel with your child.
  • Neither of you will talk negatively about the other parent in front of your child.
  • How you and your child’s other parent will resolve any disputes
  • How to make changes to the parenting agreement if necessary

How Does My Parenting Agreement Become Official?

To learn how to properly file your parenting agreement with the court, check with your family law attorney in your state.  In some states, you may need to file specific documents, or you may be able to submit your own written parenting agreement. 

If you and your child’s other parent agree on the parenting plan, you can submit it to the court for the judge’s approval. If you and your child’s other parent cannot reach an agreement or do not cooperate, you will, in most cases, go to trial. 

Once your parenting agreement is approved by the judge, it will become official and will be turned into a court order. In other words, you and your child’s other parent are legally bound to follow the parenting plan. If you or the child’s other parent violates the court-ordered parenting plan, the court can enforce your agreement. 

Keep in mind that the court will not be able to help you if you do not have your parenting agreement approved by the court, and either you or your child’s other parent violates it. 

Conclusion

The best thing you and your child’s other parent can do to protect yourselves and your child is to be as specific as possible when deciding on the terms of your parenting plan. If your parenting plan is not specific, it could open the door for a new child custody lawsuit.