What Should Be Included In A Child Custody Agreement?

Closeup of child custody application form

The family lawyers at Thomas, Conrad & Conrad have decades of experience helping families create custody agreements. Every family is unique, but there are some things that should always be included in a child custody agreement and parenting plan. It’s important to be thorough and detailed when creating a custody agreement, but sometimes parents don’t think about specific issues until they come up, which can lead to conflict and arguments.

What to Include In A Custody Agreement

The goal of any child custody agreement should be to address what’s in the best interest of your children. There are several general issues you’ll want to include in your custody agreement. You’ll probably find that there are circumstances specific to your situation that should be included as well. It’s important to use language that leaves no room for confusion.

Generally, a solid custody agreement should include details about:

  • Physical and legal custody
  • Visitation
  • Communication
  • Which holidays and birthdays each parent will spend with the children
  • Vacations
  • Relocation
  • Modification
  • Other issues specific to your family situation

Physical Custody And Visitation

Your parenting plan should outline the days and times the children will be with each parent. Parents with primary custody will have the children more often. Those with shared custody typically spend equal amounts of time with the children. Even if the children live primarily with one parent, it’s critical to ensure they consistently spend time with the non-custodial parent as well. When creating a visitation schedule, you should specify the times and places for pickup and drop-off and require both parents to be punctual for custody and visitation exchanges. It’s best for parents to work together when determining a custody and visitation schedule. Coming up with a plan that is amenable to both parties can help things run a lot more smoothly day-to-day.

Legal Custody

Legal custody enables a parent to make major decisions for their child. These decisions usually involve their education, religious upbringing, physical and mental health, and their general well-being. Typically, both parents share legal custody and have an equal say in making these decisions. Your family law attorney can help you create an agreement with specific language that advises parents to engage in direct communication with each other before making these important decisions.

Communication

It’s a good idea to include specifics about when and how children may communicate with the other parent, whether it’s through telephone, Zoom, FaceTime, or direct messaging.

Holidays And Birthdays

Parents should be specific about how holidays and birthdays will be arranged. For example, if the family observes Christmas, they may set up specific days and times to celebrate the holiday with their children. One common way to do this is to have the children alternate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with parents each year. Many co-parents celebrate their children’s birthdays as a family or do alternating years for this day as well.

Vacations

Planning vacations can be a sticky subject. Although it’s best to plan as far in advance as you can, sometimes opportunities for travel may pop up. Provisions in the agreement should require parents to give each other advance notice so both can plan accordingly. It should also outline specifics about providing itineraries, flight information, where the child will be staying, and whether international travel will be involved or allowed.

Relocation

Adding provisions that would go into effect if one parent wants to move can help protect the best interests of the children while keeping each parent’s rights in mind.

Modifications

As we’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, circumstances such as illness, injury, and work emergencies can throw a wrench in any well-crafted custody and visitation schedule. Including a provision that ensures the other parent will be contacted first to take possession of the child when these types of circumstances arise can save a lot of headaches and keep the relationship amicable. Having a lawyer assist you with drafting your custody agreement can help to ensure all your legal bases are covered so you can focus on spending quality time with your children.

Contact A Child Custody Attorney

A thoughtful, comprehensive child custody agreement can make each parent’s rights and responsibilities clear. If you have questions or concerns about how to create a custody agreement that meets your children’s needs and protects your rights, our family lawyers at Thomas, Conrad & Conrad can help. Call our Bethlehem office at 610-867-2900 or contact us online to schedule a consultation. We also have several convenient locations in Allentown, Stroudsburg, and Topton, Pennsylvania.

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