Only a court of law can grant custody, but that does not mean you have to hire a lawyer to make a custody agreement.
What is a custody agreement?
A custody agreement is a written document that outlines how parents will provide for the care and wellbeing of their child. There are two types of custody: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody has to do with who the child lives with and how visitations are handled. Legal custody is the right to make significant decisions on behalf of a child, including decisions about healthcare, education, and legal rights.
Parents Working Together
If the relationship between you and your child’s other parent is friendly, you can work out a joint custody agreement among yourselves. However, to make the custody agreement legally enforceable, it must be approved by a judge. If you want to skip hiring a lawyer, you must be willing to do some of the legwork with the court on your own. For insight on how much effort you have to put in,check out our blog post on How to File for Joint Custody
for more information.
Filing For Joint Custody
You will need to go to the Clerk of Courts to obtain and file the appropriate paperwork, you will need to write and turn in a thorough parenting plan to the court, and you will have to attend any custody hearings requested by the judge. Some states may require a background check be done on both parents before a custody agreement can be finalized. The court’s primary concern is that the parenting plan and custody agreement best meet the needs of the child and that it was entered into mutually, without any coercion or force.
Skipping the custody agreement is fine, but doing this can lead to issues down the line. If you and your child’s other parent have disagreements about the child’s schedule or financial care custody may become a concern. Having a formal custody agreement in place can be a good insurance policy against future disputes.
Your Options Outside of Court
Even if the relationship between you and your child’s other parent is not friendly, it is still possible to work out a custody agreement without a lawyer. Mediation or arbitration are two avenues to help parents work out their differences and settle on a custody agreement that is in the best interests of the child. Thre are some costs to hiring a mediator or arbitrator, but it is generally less expensive than hiring a lawyer.
When filing for custody might become a bit more complicated without a lawyer is when one parent wants to file for either sole physical or legal custody. You are going to need to make sure you thoroughly understand your state’s child custody laws.
Situations in where child custody agreements become more complicated
- If parents live in different states from one another
- If one parent is remarrying or relocating
- If you have concerns about the ability of your child’s other parent to be a fit parent.
Co-Parenting Is Always Best
Remember, most family court systems prefer co-parenting. Decades of research shows that the method of co-parenting is in the child’s best interests because they have the benefit of continuing a relationship with and spending time with both parents. Even if sole custody is granted, visitation rights will likely be awarded to the other parent, supervised if necessary. To learn more, read our blog What Could Prevent A Parent From Getting Shared Custody?
Depending on your situation, it may be worthwhile to at least schedule an initial consultation with a lawyer to explain your situation and understand the next steps that will be involved and the costs. If you can’t afford a lawyer, you may have the option of free legal aid or low-cost representation through the family court.