Many child custody disputes are solved before trial. Resolution can occur through negotiations between parents and attorneys, or through dispute resolution methods such as collaborative law or mediation. Below is a guide to parenting agreements and their approval in child visitation and custody cases.

What Are Parenting Agreements?

If parents and their lawyers solve issues of visitation and custody through informal or court-sanctioned processes, the decisions are outlined in a document referred to as a parenting, settlement or custody agreement depending on the jurisdiction.

Areas for Inclusion in a Parenting Agreement

Although clients should know that parenting agreements vary by case, such documents cover key areas as listed below.

  • Physical custody (where the child lives)
  • Schedules for visitation
  • Legal custody, or who can make decisions regarding the child’s welfare and upbringing
  • Where the child will spend vacations, birthdays and holidays
  • Handling of contact with friends and relatives
  • Handling of changes to and disputes of the agreement

Parents should consider that the areas above are only some of those dealt with by families going through a divorce. Lawyers can provide family law advice, and parents can customize agreements to meet the family’s needs. By hiring a family attorney, parents can protect their rights and the interests of the children.

Court Approval

In most cases, parenting agreements are passed to a family court judge for approval. If the agreement is included in a divorce, it is filed in the county where the petition was filed. Informal hearings may follow, and the judge may ask questions to determine whether each party voluntarily signed the agreement. As long as the judge believes that an agreement was negotiated fairly and has the child’s interests in mind, it is typically approved.

Parenting Agreement Violations

In most areas, a parenting agreement becomes legally binding and it dictates parents’ rights and responsibilities. The parents must follow the agreement or risk severe consequences including court enforcement.