Issues surrounding the custody of children in a divorce or paternity case are amongst some of the most challenging in all of family law. In some cases, negotiations between parents result in an appropriate agreement. The next step is to write a legal custody document that sets forth the agreement reached by the parents. Once drafted and signed by both parents, a legal custody agreement normally is filed with, and made an order of the court.
Identify the parents and the children specifically subject to the legal custody document or agreement. List these individuals at the beginning of the document.
Determine and then include within the custody agreement the type of custodial arrangement to be used. There are three general types of child custody arrangements: joint, sole, and shared. Joint establishes a primary residence with one parent although both parents equally enjoy custody of the child. Sole designates only one parent with custody of the child. Shared divides custody by residential living of the child between both parents equally. Joint custody is preferred as courts maintain a child's best interests are served with a primary residence and both parents participating equally in the child's life.
Write the parenting time schedule into the legal custody document. Parenting time previously was known as visitation. In most jurisdictions, visitation is called parenting time. The concept is that no parent is a mere visitor in the life of his child. A minimum schedule for parenting time for the non-residential parent includes weekends and one evening during the week. There is an extended period of parenting time during the summer. Holidays are alternated from one parent to the other.
Sign the legal custody document or custody agreement in front of a notary public. Most states require documents on family law matters to be notarized. Many states require the inclusion of what is known as a verification at the end of the document as well. A typical verification reads:
"The undersigned hereby verifies on her oath that she read the above and foregoing and that the same is true and correct to the best of her knowledge and belief."
- Cornell Law School, Child Custody: Overview
- "Building a Parenting Agreement That Works;" Mimi Lyster; 2007
- "Child Custody Made Simple: Understanding the Laws of Child Custody and Child Support;" Webster Watnik; 2003