Determine who will have physical custody of the children. The parent with physical custody is the one with whom the children will live most of the time. If the children will split their time equally between both parents, you may choose joint custody. Young children generally need a primary home, but older children may do well with joint custody.
Determine who will have legal custody of your children. Parents usually share legal custody, which allows both parents to be involved in important decisions about religious upbringing, educational options and health care.
Make decisions about how you will share time with your children. If you will share physical custody, make a plan that details how it will work. If one parent will have physical custody, create a visitation schedule for the other parent. In either case, consider holidays, school vacations, birthdays and other special situations.
Determine how you and your spouse will handle major decisions for your children. You should address issues like religion and schooling at the outset, but also plan how you will handle decisions as they arise.
Write the actual custody agreement. Use simple, direct sentences to list the decisions you have made. No “legal” language or terms are required, but make sure your decisions are understandable. You might begin, for example, by saying, “Both parents will share physical and legal custody of the children.” Organize your decisions in a logical order that is easy to follow.
Determine whether you or your ex-spouse should pay child support. Your children have a legal right to financial support from both parents. Consult your state’s child support guidelines to determine if one of you should pay support and, if so, what the amount should be. In general, if you and your ex-spouse share physical custody and have similar incomes, no support is required. When one parent has physical custody, the other parent is usually required to pay support. Also, when one parent has a significantly higher income than the other, that parent must pay support.
Write your support agreement. Keep it simple and logical. Include the amount and date of support payments. Include a plan for how particular expenses, like health insurance or school tuition, will be paid. Explain how often and under what circumstances you will re-evaluate your support plan.
Review both agreements with your ex-spouse before you go to court. Make sure they accurately represent your decisions.
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