Separation and divorce are difficult for everyone involved, but if you have children the situation can become even more complicated. There are two types of child custody that you must consider: legal and physical. Legal custody refers to who makes the decisions for the child related to things like health care, schooling, and welfare issues. Physical custody refers to who is responsible for providing shelter for the child and who spends the most time with them. Parents can have sole or joint legal or physical custody. In general, a child custody agreement must be approved by a judge in order to be legal and enforceable under state laws. Even though a judge needs to approve the custody agreement, many parents prefer to develop a plan outside of court before bringing it to a judge, which is sometimes more cost-effective and less contentious than a drawn-out trial in court.
Developing a Parenting Plan
The first step in developing a custody agreement is to agree on a parenting plan, which is basically a proposed custody agreement outlining whether custody will be joint or not, the details of visitation schedules for the non-custodial parent, if applicable, as well as the duties and responsibilities of each parent. Parenting plans usually also provide information about parental rights and the rights of other parties who might be involved in the child’s life such as grandparents or stepparents. Although there is no set form for parenting plans, they can be as detailed or as simple as the parties want.
Ways to Arrange a Custody Agreement Outside of the Court
There are a few different ways to arrive at a parenting plan and then custody agreement outside of court:
- Informal Negotiations – if parents have a mostly amicable relationship they might choose to create a parenting plan together through direct communication and discussion without involving outside parties.
- Collaboration – if parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, they might choose to communicate through their attorneys.
- Mediation – if direct communication or collaboration fails to provide the desired results, some parents turn to mediation, a process in which a neutral third party works with both parents and their attorneys. It should be noted that nothing the mediator says or does is legally binding.
Using any of the methods above, once the parents arrive at a parenting plan that is acceptable to both sides, both parties must sign the agreement and present it to the court for approval.
Deciding What is Best for Your Situation
Custody decisions are always delicate because the emotions and well-being of children are involved, but sometimes they can also be complicated by more serious issues such as domestic violence, allegations of abuse or one parent moving far away or even living in another country. Even in less complicated cases, parents going through divorce and fighting for custody tend to be stressed and emotional, which might make it difficult to think clearly or come to an agreement.
Hiring an attorney to assist you can make a particularly difficult time in your life easier. Our team of experienced family law attorneys at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri has been helping families in the greater Bay Area navigate the complicated landscape of custody arrangements and the court system for decades. Call us today at 408-553-0801 to schedule a free half-hour consultation. We would be happy to discuss your options and help you decide on the best path forward in your unique situation.