Navigating the divorce process can understandably be challenging for you and your future ex-spouse. However, it can also take an emotional toll on the minor children you share with your spouse.
The good news is that many child custody cases in California do not need to end up in court. Many divorcing parents instead manage to create a mutually satisfactory parenting agreement through informal negotiations, collaborative divorce or divorce mediation. Likewise, you and your spouse can create your own parenting agreement outside of court, thus avoiding unnecessary court intrusion.
What should you include in your parenting agreement?
Parenting agreements, also known as settlement agreements or custody agreements, can address various matters as follows:
- With which parent your minor children will live (who will be granted physical custody)
- Which parent will get to make critical decisions about your children's upbringing (legal custody)
- When the noncustodial parent will be able to have visitations with the children
- Where the children will go during the holiday season, for birthdays and during vacation seasons
- When your children will get to see their grandparents or family friends
In your agreement, you can also spell out how you plan to tackle any disputes over the agreement that might arise once you finalize your divorce. No two parenting agreements are alike as families have different needs based on their circumstances. The goal for you is to create an agreement that meets your and the other party's unique needs as well as the children's needs.
The court must approve the parenting agreement
Just because you and the other party have come up with a mutually beneficial parenting agreement does not mean it is automatically a done deal. This is because a judge must look at and approve your agreement before it becomes official. After you have given a judge your agreement, he or she will ask you questions regarding your agreement during a hearing.
The aim of the judge's hearing, which is generally informal, is to verify that you and the other party negotiated your agreement fairly. Most importantly, the judge will make sure that the decisions you have laid out in the agreement are truly in your children's best interests. The judge will also make sure that both parents understand the agreement's terms. If the judge is okay with your responses, your agreement will likely receive his or her approval.