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Child Custody Agreements

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What is a Child Custody Agreement?

A child custody agreement is a type of legal document which outlines the rights and responsibilities of each parent and it is generally issued in connection with divorce or separation proceedings. Either parent can have custody of the children or the parents can share custody. The judge will usually approve the arrangement that both parents agree on but if the parents cannot agree, the judge will make a decision at court hearing.

What are the Different Types of Child Custody?

There are two types of child custody agreements:

  • Legal Custody: This determines who makes important decisions for the children and includes areas such as healthcare, education and general welfare.
  • Physical Custody: This determines who the children live with.

There are two types of legal custody:

  • Joint: Here, both parents share the rights and responsibilities to make important decisions regarding the children.
  • Sole: Here, only one parent has the right and responsibility to make important decisions regarding the children.

Both of the parents who share legal custody have the right to make important decisions about their children’s lives but they may not agree on every decision. Either parent can make a decision alone but in order to avoid having problems and ending up back in court, it is important that both parents communicate with each other as well as cooperate in making decisions together.

There are also two types of physical custody:

  • Joint: Here, the children live with both parents.
  • Sole/Primary: Here, the children live with one parent most of the time and usually visit the other parent.

Joint physical custody does not mean that the children spend exactly half the time with each parent as it is too hard to split the time exactly in half. Usually, the children spend a little more time with one parent and when one parent has the children more than half of the time, then that parent is sometimes referred to as the “primary custodial parent”. A judge may sometimes give parents joint legal custody but not joint physical custody. This means that the children live with one parent most of the time. But both parents share the responsibility for making important decisions in their children’s lives and the parent that does not have physical custody usually has visitation with the children.

According to the law, judges must give custody based on what is in the “best interest of the child”. To decide what is best for the child, the court will consider different factors including (but not limited to):

  • The age of the child;
  • The health of the child;
  • The child’s ties to school, home, and the community; and
  • The emotional ties between the parent and the child.

The judge will probably also make child support orders in addition to custody orders. A child support order is separate from child custody and visitation, so you cannot refuse to let the other parent see the children just because that parent is not making the child support payments. You also cannot refuse to pay child support just because the other parent is not letting you see your children. However, child support and custody are related because the amount of time each parent spends with the children will affect the amount of child support that is expected from a particular parent.

How to Get Custody and Visitation Rights

Parents can make their own agreements for custody and visitation, without a court order, in most cases. The agreement becomes binding and enforceable if you make an agreement between the both of you but if one of you decides not to follow the agreement, a court cannot enforce it until it becomes a court order. If you and the other parent agree on custody and want a court order that either of you can enforce, you can turn in your agreement to a judge. After the judge signs your agreement, you have to file it with the court clerk.

If both parents cannot agree on an arrangement, the judge will send them to mediation. If they still cannot agree with each other, both of them will meet with the judge. Generally, the judge will then decide on the issue of custody and visitation.

Where Can You Find the Right Lawyer?

Because child custody agreements can be complicated and involve many different factors, it is important to consult with an experienced family lawyer before proceeding.

Photo of page author Arvind Ravikumar

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 03-14-2018 12:01 AM PDT

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