A child custody agreement is a type of written document outlining the guidelines for child custody between the parents of a child or children. It is generally issued in connection with a divorce or separation proceeding. It may contain various instructions regarding:

  • Which parent has primary physical custody of the child
  • Which parent is entrusted with legal custody of the child (usually the same parent that is granted physical custody)
  • Whether custody will be split equally between the parents, or whether one parent will have more physical custody time
  • Visitation schedules for the non-custodial parent

In addition, the custody agreement may address various issues such as child support provisions, and whether or not other parties can assume custody of the child (such as a grandparent or close relative). 

How Does One Obtain a Child Custody Agreement?

Child custody agreements must generally be approved by a judge in order to be enforceable under state laws. Usually, the child custody agreement is formulated and approved during the divorce or separation hearings.

In other cases, the parents may have already been separated for some time. They may choose to create a child custody agreement outside of the court, and without any connection to a divorce or separation lawsuit. In such instances, the parents should still submit the custody agreement to a judge in order to have it legally approved. The custody agreement should always be in writing.

Who Are the Parties Involved in a Child Custody Agreement?

Most child custody agreements refer to the child’s biological parents, as well as the child or children that are to be affected by the agreement. However, depending on the family arrangements, other parties may be mentioned in a child custody agreement, such as:

  • Stepparents
  • Grandparents or other close relatives
  • Adoptive parents, if any

Thus, child custody agreements can usually be tailored to meet the needs of both the children as well as the various caretakers that may be involved in the custody arrangement. 

However, any custody determinations need to be made with the child’s best interests in mind. So for example, if a certain adult has been abusive to the child in the past, that person most likely won’t be granted any custody privileges in the child custody agreement.

What Happens If a Child Custody Agreement Is Violated?

Child custody agreements that are approved by a judge or by a family law court are enforceable under law. They carry with them the weight of the judge’s decision and therefore should not be violated. Violations of a child custody order can result in serious penalties for the parent who violated it. These may include:

  • A contempt order
  • Loss of visitation or custody privileges
  • Possible criminal consequences, especially if disobeying the child custody agreement resulting in harm to a child

Child custody agreements can usually be modified over time in order to suit the changing needs and abilities of the parents and children involved. 

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for a Child Custody Agreement?

Child custody agreements can define the nature of the future child-parent relationship. You will probably need to hire a qualified family law attorney in your area for assistance with a child custody agreement. Your attorney can help with all the important stages, including the negotiation and finalizing of the agreement. This helps to ensure that the child receives the best arrangement possible for them. Also, in the event of a lawsuit over the agreement, your attorney can represent you during trial.