Parenting Agreements

Practical steps to help you create a workable parenting plan with your child's other parent.

If you are divorcing and you have kids, the most important task ahead of you is to make an agreement with your spouse about custody and visitation. No matter how angry you may be or how difficult your communication with your spouse is, put your children first and do everything you can to make decisions together with your spouse, rather than letting a judge or court evaluator make them for you. This means keeping an open mind and getting whatever professional help you might need -- from a therapist, a custody evaluator, or a family mediator.

What Is a Parenting Agreement?

A written parenting agreement or parenting plan is helpful in setting the stage for a successful post-divorce relationship. Just the process of creating an agreement allows you and your future ex-spouse to discuss most or all of the issues that will come up during your children's lives. In addition, if, after you create and sign an agreement, the other parent continuously breaks the agreement, you will have proof that he or she originally agreed to the agreement in writing.

Factors you should consider in writing your agreement include:

  • custody and living arrangements
  • visitation
  • financial issues
  • education
  • medical care
  • religious training
  • holidays.
Gather Documents

Before you try to negotiate with the other parent or seek the help of any professional in developing a parenting agreement, it makes sense to collect and review all relevant documents. If you're in the midst of a divorce, or if you've already been involved in custody proceedings, these might include:

  • court documents you have filed or received, such as a "summons," "petition," "complaint," "response," "answer," "declaration," or "affidavit"
  • correspondence from an attorney, counselor, mediator, or court official regarding your separation, divorce, paternity, child support, custody, or visitation
  • court orders regarding a legal separation, divorce, paternity declaration, or award of custody
  • previously mediated, arbitrated or negotiated agreements between you and the other parent
  • documents dissolving your religious marriage, or describing your marital status and your options according to your religious denomination, and
  • reports, letters, or evaluations from school officials, counselors, therapists, or others who have an insight into your children.

You won't necessarily need all of these documents to develop a parenting plan. Nevertheless, having them can help expedite matters, especially if you are going through a legal separation or divorce. For example, if you or the other parent have already initiated a court proceeding, you may have a deadline for submitting your parenting agreement.

Carefully read the documents you gather. If you need help in finding or understanding any of them, an attorney, court clerk, paralegal, marriage counselor, or mediator might be useful. Some of these folks might also be able to help you work with your spouse.

Resources for Creating a Parenting Agreement

You might consider using a family law mediator to help you work out a parenting plan that's in everyone's best interests.

In addition, Nolo publishes a helpful book called Child Custody: Building Parenting Agreements That Work, by Mimi E. Lyster, that shows you how to build your own custody and visitation agreement.