Do I Need a Lawyer for a Custody Agreement?
The legal factors of formulating a child custody agreement.
Only a court of law can grant custody, but that doesn’t mean you have to hire a lawyer to make a child custody agreement. If your situation with your co-parent allows and you are willing to do the necessary legwork, you can create an agreement without an attorney.
What is a custody agreement?
A custody agreement is a written document that outlines how parents will provide for the care and well-being of their child. There are two types of custody: physical and legal. Physical custody dictates 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. Joint custody is the term used when both parents hold and share some custody rights. Joint custody can be joint physical custody, joint legal custody, or both, so it’s important to understand the differences.
Filing for joint custody
To file for joint custody, you will need to:
- Go to the Clerk of Courts to obtain and file the appropriate paperwork.
- Write and turn in a thorough parenting plan to the court.
- Attend any custody hearings requested by the judge.
Some states may also require both parents to undergo a background check before a custody agreement can be finalized. The court’s primary concern is that the parenting plan and custody arrangement best meet the needs of the child and that it was entered into mutually, without any coercion or force.
Though you can skip creating a custody agreement, this can lead to major 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 more of a concern. Having a formal custody agreement in place can be a good insurance policy against future disputes.
Options outside of court
Even if the relationship between you and your child’s other parent is not amicable, it’s still possible to work out a custody agreement without a lawyer. Mediation and arbitration are two avenues that parents may be able to take to come to an agreement. There are some costs to hiring a mediator or arbitrator, but it’s generally less expensive than hiring a lawyer.
Filing for custody might become more complicated without a lawyer when one parent wants to file for sole physical or legal custody. If this is the case, you need to make sure you thoroughly understand your state’s child custody laws. Common reasons that parents file for sole custody include:
- Living in different states or countries from one another
- Concerns about the parenting ability of the other parent
If possible, co-parenting is preferable for the child
Remember, most family court systems prefer shared parenting arrangements. Research shows that co-parenting is in the child’s best interest because they have the benefit of continuing a relationship 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 article, What Could Prevent A Parent From Getting Shared Custody?
If you’re looking for additional tools to help with co-parenting, TalkingParents is a great resource. Our service is designed specifically for co-parents, and we offer features like Secure Messaging, Accountable Calling, the Shared Calendar, Accountable Payments, and more, all to help you manage shared custody.