Planning for the wellbeing of children during a divorce can be a messy process. Children are not assets, so negotiations on their care often take place outside other deliberations. Parents and their attorneys can resolve these issues with a comprehensive parenting agreement.

Sometimes called a co-parenting plan, a parenting agreement is a written document that outlines the care for children post-divorce. These agreements are an essential part of divorce proceedings and ensure stability in a child’s life.

What does an agreement include?

Not all parenting agreements will be the same. The needs of families differ significantly, so parents need to develop a plan that addresses the wellbeing of the children while also setting realistic expectations for themselves. Many agreements outline the following:

  • Physical custody. The concept of physical custody defines with which parent the child will live and accounts for the child custody laws of the state.
  • Visitation schedule: Visitation schedules determine when the children will spend time with each parent, accounting for holidays, summers, birthdays, and other family events.
  • Legal custody: The parent with legal custody will make legal decisions for the child and the child’s welfare. Sole custody determines one parent that will make all welfare decisions alone while joint custody requires both parents agree to all decisions. Most states prefer to award joint custody for the best interests of the child.
  • Third-party relationships: A parenting agreement may include instructions on the children’s interactions with third parties. These parties include family, friends and professionals like doctors or teachers.
  • Dispute process: Most parenting agreements will outline the process for handling future disputes and making changes. These instructions often include mediation guidelines or an alternative dispute resolution to avoid court.
  • Child support: This determines which parent will pay the other for child support and other expenses that may include extra-curricular activities, medical bills or college tuition.

Are parenting agreements legally binding?

Once all parties have agreed to terms, a judge will likely review the agreement. As a formality, they may ask a few questions to ensure all parties understand and consent to the plan. After this, the terms of the agreement become legally binding and enforceable. A parent who fails to uphold their end will likely find themselves in court.

Seek legal counsel

Children of divorce need a comprehensive parenting plan. Communication between two parents, however challenging, is an effective way to reach an equitable solution that prioritizes the children. An attorney familiar with drafting parenting agreements can ensure a plan is comprehensive, clear and keeps the wellbeing of the children at the forefront.