When families break up, one of the most important issues to decide is how the parents will share custody of the children. In an ideal situation, the parents would decide amongst themselves what would be in the best interest of the children and come up with a custody agreement that will provide the most stable environment for the children with significant contact with both parents.
In reality, however, that doesn’t always happen and in many instances, the question of child custody turns into an emotionally charged battle between the parents. This can consume a lot of time and money and can take a great toll on everyone involved, including the children. The result is then a court-ordered custody arrangement that no-one is completely happy with.
For this reason, today’s courts are doing all they can to steer parents towards working out reasonable custody agreements on their own. This often involves court-mandated mediation sessions in which the parent can work out an agreement that is in the best interest of the children with the help of a neutral third party. Only if that process is unsuccessful, will the parents be allowed to bring their issues to court?
What is a custody agreement?
A custody agreement is a detailed written agreement between divorcing parents that describes how they will deal with their children’s living arrangements, custodial time, holiday schedules, vacation, religion, travel, education, and other related issues.
Parents may negotiate and write down a custody agreement themselves, or seek the help of a child custody mediator, therapist, or another specialist. Once the agreement is complete, it must be submitted to the court for review. Typically, as long as your custody agreement is reasonable, the court will approve it and it will become a custody order.
Once approved, your custody agreement becomes an enforceable court order. In other words, if your ex-spouse doesn’t comply with its terms, you can return to court and ask the judge to order your former spouse to comply.
How courts decide custody arrangements
Ultimately, the court has the final say on how child custody will be allocated. However, if parents submit a custody agreement that the judge finds fair and reasonable, he or she will most likely issue a custody order reflecting the terms of that agreement. On the other hand, if the parents cannot come to a fair and reasonable agreement on their own, the judge will determine how custody will be allocated based on what is in the best interest of the children.
Also Read: How Does Child Support Order Work?
In making this determination, the judge will consider a number of different factors, including:
- Each parent’s health, age, individual income, and lifestyle;
- Each parent’s relationship with the children;
- The sex, health and ages of the children; and
- The wishes of all parties involved.
If after all factors are taken into account neither parent stands out as a better candidate for custody than the other, the parent whom the judge feels will provide the children with the most stable environment will typically receive physical custody, with the noncustodial parent receiving visitation rights.
Contact an experienced family law attorney
For assistance with working out a custody agreement in your state, consult with an experienced local family law attorney who can advise you on mediation service and what the courts in your states look for in a reasonable custody arrangement.