The Essential Elements of a Well-Written Child Custody Agreement
When parents break up, child custody becomes one of the most important issues to resolve. A child custody agreement is a document that outlines who will have physical and legal custody of the child, as well as parenting rights for the other parent. It is essential that this agreement be written clearly in order to avoid any confusion or conflict in the future. In this article, I will discuss some of the essential elements I recommend that my clients include in a well-written child custody agreement and why they are so important.
Physical and Legal Custody Designations
Among the most important elements in a child custody agreement are clear and concise definitions of physical and legal custody. Physical custody refers to where the child will live, while legal custody gives one or both parents the right to make decisions about the child’s education, health, and welfare. It is essential that these terms be defined in the agreement so that there is no confusion about who has what rights and responsibilities.
In South Carolina, typically the parent designated as the “sole” or “primary” physical custodian also holds the “final decision-making authority” when it comes to legal custody of the child. However, there are times when both parents have true “joint” custody and neither parent has decision-making authority over the other when disagreements happen. Unfortunately, even well-intentioned parents can disagree, which can pose significant problems for everyone.
While this type of provision is generally unwise, if the parents insist on it, they should also include a provision that outlines how disagreements will be handled and resolved. For example, will the parties see a co-parenting therapist to help them resolve their disagreement or will they hire a family law mediator to help them in negotiating an agreement on that issue? Mapping out how disagreements will be resolved before the disagreements happen will save time, money, and lots of frustration later.
A Detailed Parenting Time Schedule
Another key element to include in a child custody agreement is a detailed parenting time schedule. This schedule should outline when the child will be with each parent and include provisions for holidays, vacations, and other special occasions celebrated by each side of the family or that may be important for the child. It is important to be as specific as possible when creating this schedule to avoid any confusion or ambiguity later.
For example, if you are the child’s non-custodial parent and you have every other weekend plus one night during the week, make sure that is clearly stated in the agreement. Don’t just say “every other weekend” because that doesn’t give you any specifics on which weekends those are or whether there are any holidays or vacations included in that time. Also, be sure to include which night during the week is your night with the child and whether that night is your every week or just the weeks you don’t have weekend parenting time. The more specific you can be, the better.
Parenting Plan Agreements
Another important element to include in a child custody agreement is a detailed plan about how you both agree the child will be raised. It’s clearly impossible to predict every scenario that may affect the child, but you can have conversations and make agreements about the “big” or “common” issues. Some areas that are commonly addressed are education, religion, medical care, and extracurricular activities. Other issues many people include are:
- Which parent will be responsible for teaching the child to drive or providing a car and car insurance;
- If and when a parent can introduce the child to a new significant other;
- Whether the parents agree to use babysitters or family members for child care;
- At what age the child will be given certain electronics, a cell phone, access to the internet, etc.;
- At what age the child can watch R-rated movies;
- How and when the child may travel certain distances and if/when travel itineraries will be shared between the parents.
There are endless possibilities for what could be put into a parenting plan agreement, but the key is to include anything that you feel is important for the child’s well-being or that may cause future disagreements between the parents.
Finally, child custody agreements should also include a provision for child support. This is important because it ensures that both parents are financially responsible for the child’s care. The amount of child support should be based on the needs of the child and the ability of each parent to pay.
Many states, including South Carolina, have child support guidelines or calculators that allow parents to use their incomes and other child-related expenses to determine the appropriate amount for child support in their situation. However, the court can deviate from this number in certain situations. It’s important to discuss your child’s specific needs with your attorney to get an idea as to whether a deviation in either direction may be appropriate for your case.
As you can see, there are many important elements to include in a child custody agreement. By taking the time to sit down and discuss these issues with your attorney and the other parent, you can ensure that your agreement is well-written, unambiguous, and will protect both your parenting rights and your child’s best interests. If you have any questions about child custody agreements, or if you need help drafting or enforcing one, please contact our office to schedule your consultation.
If you and your spouse are considering divorce or you are dealing with child custody issues, don’t make any decisions about how to proceed before talking with a trusted attorney in your area. Any agreement you create will be subject to the law of your state. Without discussing your situation with an attorney, your agreement may not be what you want or what is beneficial to your future.
If you’re in South Carolina, it’s important to contact an experienced family court attorney like Ben Stevens today to discuss your specific situation. Even if you aren’t in South Carolina, Mr. Stevens is happy to offer referrals to a well-qualified attorney located in your state.
Ben Stevens has provided exceptional legal counsel and support to families throughout South Carolina for over twenty-five years, handling all matters of family law, such as prenuptial agreements, divorce, separation, alimony, and child custody. Our firm is well-equipped to handle all divorce and family law matters, no matter your circumstances. Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
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Contact our office at (864) 598-9172 or SCFamilyLaw@offitkurman.com to schedule an initial consultation.
ABOUT J. BENJAMIN STEVENS
Ben.Stevens@offitkurman.com | 864.598.9172
Aggressive, creative, and compassionate are words Ben Stevens' colleagues freely use to describe him as a divorce and family law attorney. Mr. Stevens is a Fellow in the prestigious American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, the International Academy of Family Lawyers, and is a Board Certified Family Trial Advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He is one of only two attorneys in South Carolina with those simultaneous distinctions. He has held numerous leadership positions in the AAML, and he currently serves as one of its National Vice Presidents. Mr. Stevens has a statewide practice and regularly appears all across South Carolina. His practice is focused on complex divorce and child custody cases.
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