Divorce is hard enough without battling over the kids. Here’s how you can reach a child custody agreement without court involvement.
According to published studies, separation and custody battles can wreak havoc with your children’s well-being. The stress of family separation can impact them physically, psychologically, and academically.
However, in many cases, separation is the healthiest route long-term. What’s more, research also shows that children can do better if parents manage to minimize conflict when determining custody rights.
One of the best ways to reduce stress, both for yourself and your child, is to try and get a child custody agreement without court processes determining the details.
All custody agreements have to be signed off by a judge to be legally binding. However, there are ways to reach a custody agreement outside of court. Not only can this be less stressful, but it can also be a lot cheaper.
Curious to know how to reach a child custody agreement without a court? Carry on reading for everything you need to know.
Consider Informal Negotiations
If you and your ex are on speaking terms, you might want to consider conducting informal negotiations. This typically works well in situations where there is little animosity and a lot of mutual agreement on what is best for the child or children.
During informal negotiations, you and your ex-partner will need to come to an agreement over things like custody and visitation rights. You should also hash out things like where the child is to spend birthdays, holidays, Christmas, etc.
Once you have agreed on the details, you can then go ahead and draft an agreement together.
Look Into Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
If the situation is such that you cannot sit down with the other parent and come to an amicable agreement, then you might want to look into Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).
ADR is a relatively new framework that covers a range of processes for resolving disputes outside of court. Through ADR, you can negotiate a parenting agreement, either with the assistance of attorneys or without.
While you can (and usually should) have a lawyer present, ADR typically tends to be more casual and less combative than court settings.
ADR is generally best suited to couples who, while unable to reach an agreement on their own, still have some desire for co-operation. It is also an attractive option if you want to limit personal issues from being put on public record.
The two most common types of ADR are Collaborative Family Law and Child Custody Mediation.
Mediation of Child Custody
Mediation of Child Custody is a widespread method for resolving child custody agreements out of court. In some states, the law even requires that parents attempt mediation before the custody case is allowed to go to court.
During a child custody mediation, a mediator will attempt to help you and the other party reach an agreement that serves the best interests of your child.
Mediators cannot impose solutions. However, depending on what state you live in, they may make recommendations.
Having a mediator facilitate negotiations can be very helpful and can go a long way to keeping discussions civil, structured, and logical. Besides this, it is also cheap, as you don’t need to have extensive legal help or expert witnesses.
Lastly, mediation can also foster lasting cooperation. Couples who reach a child custody agreement via mediation often go on to have more amicable communications into the future.
Overall, mediation is thought to be highly beneficial for achieving a healthy divorce, whether it be over custody arrangements or other areas of dispute.
If you are wondering what the mediation process looks like, the first step is an initial meeting with the mediator where they work to identify and categorize issues and areas of conflict.
After this, mediation will carry on until an agreement has been reached. Agreements are typically reached after 5-10 hours of mediation over one to two weeks. At this point, a custody agreement will be prepared.
Collaborative Family Law
Another avenue you can leverage is Collaborative Law.
Under Collaborative Law, there is an overarching commitment to reaching a resolution. This is the primary goal.
If you choose to reach a custody agreement under Collaborative Law, both you and the other parent can have a lawyer present. The attorneys representing you and your co-parent are placed in the same room. This guides them to reach a resolution together rather than create more conflict.
This is a much more collaborative and peaceful process than court proceedings. What’s more, you get to have the benefit of qualified legal counsel at all times. During the process, the attorneys involved can also choose to bring in experts or counselors.
Create a Parenting Plan
Whichever path you choose, whether that be informal negotiation, mediation, or Collaborative Law—the final outcome needs to be a parenting plan.
A parenting plan is basically a proposed custody agreement drafted by you, the other parent, or any professionals involved, such a mediator or your respective attorneys.
As mentioned above, this should include the details relating to the shared custody of your child. It can be as short, long, simple, or complex as needed. What details are stipulated in the agreement ultimately depends on your unique situation and requirements.
How to Finalize an Out-of-Court Agreement
Once you have reached the point where you have created a parenting plan, this out-of-court custody agreement needs to be signed by a judge to make it legally binding.
When you submit your parenting plan to the court, the judge will go over it and determine whether it is in the best interests of the child. If so, they will then sign it.
Once this happens, the custody agreement becomes a court order, enforceable by law. In other words, if you or the other party breaks the agreement, this can be punishable with jail time.
Do You Need Help Reaching a Child Custody Agreement Without a Court Case?
In almost all situations, reaching a child custody agreement without a court case is the best route. Not only is it cheaper, but it can also reduce emotional stress, and foster a better avenue of communication between you and your co-parent in the future.
However, it is also important that you have the right assistance in this process. Signing an agreement without the aid of an attorney can lead to trouble down the line.
To get professional help in your corner and hire a family lawyer in Houston, contact us.
Here at Scott M.Brown and Associates, we specialize in child custody. With decades of experience in family law, we are here to ensure that you get the resolution you need.