5 common elements to a child custody agreement


Every child custody agreement is different, but there are several elements that are found in nearly every agreement. These including legal custody stipulations, physical custody stipulations, custody/visitation schedules, and stipulations regarding important decisions in the life of the child like education and health care decisions. Custody agreements also often contain a stipulation regarding the process to change the agreement in the future.

This keeps the parents from needing to go before a judge to change the agreement. Good lawyers can create a thorough and fair custody agreement that will save the parents time and money that they would otherwise spend on a long custody battle. Read on to learn more about the five common elements found in nearly every custody agreement. 

Legal Custody Stipulations 

One of the most common elements in a custody agreement is a set of stipulations regarding legal custody. Legal custody is what gives a parent the right to make decisions regarding a child’s education, health care, and more. The stipulations regarding legal custody are intended to make the decision-making process simple for future legal decisions that will greatly affect the child’s life. This part of the child custody agreement is often separate from pre-agreed stipulations about residency, health care, education, etc. because these stipulations are agreed upon by both parents at the time of the custody agreement. 

Physical Custody Stipulations 

It is important to distinguish between physical custody and legal custody. While legal custody gives parents the right to make decisions in the child’s life, physical custody refers to the practical, daily decisions that a parent must make for a child that lives with them. Physical custody stipulations are focused on small daily decisions rather than long-term choices that fall under legal custody. One of the most important physical custody decisions is which parent will be the custodial parent who takes care of the child most of the time. One parent is usually designated as a custodial parent because having a child split their time evenly between two parents is often impractical and disruptive to the child’s life. 

Custody/Visitation Schedules 

One vital and often hotly contested part of a child custody agreement is the custody or visitation schedule. The structure of this schedule depends on whether the parents share custody or one parent has full custody and the other parent only has visitation rights. Usually, there will be a custody schedule that specifies which days of the week parents have with the child, which holidays they have with the child, and when they can take vacations with the child. If one parent has only visitation rights, then the custody agreement will include a schedule that specifies when this parent is allowed to visit the child and for how long. 

Stipulations Regarding Education, Health Care, and More 

Most child custody agreements include pre-arranged stipulations about a child’s education, health care, residency, and more. This stipulation is different than the legal custody stipulation because that specifies how parents make similar decisions after the custody agreement has been filed. It will save parents time and stress in the future if they can agree on many decisions regarding the child’s life and put them in the initial custody agreement.

A Process for Resolving Future Disagreements 

Another important component of many child custody agreements is a process for resolving future disagreements. Even in amicable child custody cases, there is a high chance that the parents will disagree on important decisions in the future. It is ideal for the initial child custody agreement to specify a process for resolving these disagreements. This will save parents time, stress, and money. Also, it will save the court time and money. If parents cannot resolve disagreements between themselves, they will have to go to court and a judge will need to decide matters.

Filing a Child Custody Agreement 

Once both sides have reached a child custody agreement, this agreement will be filed with the court. Once a judge certifies the child custody agreement, it will essentially become a court order. This means that the stipulations of the child custody agreement will become law. Parents must follow the terms of the agreement or face legal penalties. If there are any changes to the agreement, it must be re-filed. If parents cannot agree on any proposed changes, they will have to go before a judge. A judge will listen to arguments for both sides and make a legally-binding decision. Their primary concern will be the well-being of the child.


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