What is a child custody agreement?

Recently on our forum a user asked for general information about child custody agreements and visitation rights. If you and your spouse have a child together but the relationship has ended in divorce or separation, prior to the completion of the divorce, the court will require you and your spouse to complete a child custody agreement.

The child custody agreement is the document which outlines the general provisions for a child or children after a divorce or separation. For instance, the agreement will determine what parent(s) has primary custody of the child, both legally and physically, visitation rights for each parent, and various issues related to child support.

The child custody agreement is created during the divorce hearings, approved by a judge, and should always be in writing. Spouses may create the agreement together or on their own and simply have it approved by the court, or they can work with a lawyer or mediator.

If couples cannot agree on a child custody arrangement and have tried several alternative dispute resolution strategies, the court will create an agreement for them. Agreements may involve a variety of parties including adoptive parents, close relatives, grandparents or step parents. Keep in mind however, agreements are only approved if the court determines they are in the best interest of the child.

Parents who fail to follow the terms of the child custody agreement can have a contempt order filed against them, may lose their right to visit or care for the child or could face criminal charges. Parents, may, however, petition the court to update or modify child custody agreements as the needs of the child and parents change. All modifications should be approved by the court.

Types of custody arrangements

Child custody arrangements refer to both physical custody and legal custody of the child. Physical custody arrangements will determine who has actual physical control of the child. If the court places the child physically with one parent they are considered the "custodial parent." This means they have sole physical custody of the child, and the other parent has visitation rights. Other arrangements include joint physical custody, where the child spends significant time with each parent moving back and forth from home to home.

A part from physical custody is legal custody. The court will also decide if you and your ex should have joint legal custody, which means both of you will have the right to make important decisions about your child's future, or if one parent should be given sole legal custody. Joint legal custody is the most common arrangement in most states. Fail to follow the court's decision and you might end up back in front of the judge.

How do I get sole legal and physical custody of my child?

If you believe you should have sole physical and legal custody of your child you will have to prove to the court it is in the best interest of your child for the other parent to be excluded from their life and potentially only given limited visitation rights. Courts have moved away from awarding sole custody in most child custody arrangements.

Common reasons the court may decide this is best, however, is if you can prove your ex has had or currently has alcohol or drug dependency issues or has been charged with neglect or child abuse.

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