A verbal custody agreement, formally known as a parenting plan, is an informal oral agreement between two parents governing the custody and visitation of the couple’s children. While some form of written parenting plan is required in divorce matters, verbal custody agreements are common in separations or ongoing divorce proceedings that have yet to be finalized.
Custody agreements are developed to give both parents a solid idea regarding the custody of any minor children born into the relationship. These agreements give each parent a detailed schedule explaining when and where the children will be, for how long and when they will return. Custody agreements aim to reduce the conflicts that arise between parents, whether out of confusion, anger or spite, and aid in the children’s transition during the separation.
Verbal custody agreements are created orally, usually when both parents meet to discuss how the time between the parents will be shared. Developing a verbal custody agreement is simple, but certain issues should be addressed to ensure the agreement is both specific and fair. Issues to discuss include which parent will serve as primary caretaker, where the children will reside, when the non-custodial parent will take the children and where the children will go for visitation.
A schedule that details the days and hours during which the children will be with each parent is the most common agreement in custody matters. Parents typically choose which days of the week the children will spend with each parent, the hours the children will arrive and leave for visitation, and on which holiday each parent will have the children. Parent-specific holidays, like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and each parents’ birthday, should be divided appropriately. Major holidays, such as Christmas or Easter, are often divided in a bi-yearly fashion, i.e., the mother takes the children for Christmas this year, the father takes the children next year, and so on.
Parents who are on mutually good terms may also opt for an “open” custody agreement, which does not specify any specific days or times for visitation. Rather, the non-custodial parent is free to visit with the children whenever he is able and willing. Open custody agreements are common when the non-custodial parent has an unpredictable schedule, such as parents who serve in the military.
Verbal custody agreements are considered a valid, legal contract in most (if not all) jurisdictions. However, verbal contracts are notoriously problematic, especially if the parents are not on good terms, as enforcement of verbal contracts become a matter of “he said, she said.” Without physical evidence demonstrating the agreement’s terms, the court will have a difficult time policing disputes. This is why it is strongly suggested that any custody agreement you develop—including open custody plans —are written down and if possible, signed by both parents, so that each has a definitive copy of the plan.
Divorce and Custody Agreements
Family courts rarely, if ever, allow verbal agreements in lieu of formal parenting plans as part of divorce proceedings. Most jurisdictions require the parents to submit a written, signed plan that the judge can enter as a formal order, binding both parties to follow the agreement. Even if you and your former partner are on excellent terms, you should strongly consider writing down any custody agreements you create to protect both you and the other parent from potential problems that may arise later on.
- “Family Law (5th Ed.);” William P. Statsky; 2001.
- "Legal Ethics in Child Custody and Dependency Proceedings;" William Wesley Patton; 2006.
- Andrea Morini/Photodisc/Getty Images