The Essentials of a Parenting Agreement

The parenting agreement is the basic foundation of most custody arrangements. In some cases, major support issues are tackled in the same parenting agreement. A parenting agreement applies to co-parents, whether they were formerly married to one another or not.

Once a parenting agreement is signed by the parties and affirmed by the court in a judicial order, it becomes the law between the parties. As such, the parenting agreement determines the rights and duties of the parties with respect to their children.

A carefully worded parenting agreement is very important. Violations of the agreement can give rise to a legal action for breach of contract or to a motion for contempt against the breaching party. Thus, whether you are drafting the agreement on your own or with the help of an attorney, remember that a good agreement is Clear, Brief and Concise. Some of the best parenting agreements contain the following provisions:

Definition of the visitation schedule or time share.

Avoid general language such as “reasonable visitation”. Times and days should be specified in the clearest terms possible to avoid doubt in the interpretation or an otherwise unfavorable interpretation by your ex. A detailed plan can operate on its own without further need for constant contact with the other party. This is particularly helpful when communications between ex spouses are strained. Example: The Second Party shall fetch the children from the residence of the First Party every Friday at 5 p.m. and shall return the children to the residence of the First Party by 5 p.m. on the Sunday immediately following.

Comprehensive and detailed time sharing plans.

Devote a single paragraph each to weekly schedule, monthly vacations, holidays, birthdays of the children and parents, grandparents’ time, family gatherings and other important dates. Specify starting and ending times to avoid confusion and doubt.

Transportation responsibilities.

Specify whose duty it is to provide transportation to and from each parent’s home.

Communication issues.

Specify phone guidelines, procedure for relaying school notices and information, cancellation notices of parenting schedule and other matters deemed important by the family.

Money matters.

Specify support obligations, amounts, dates when they are due as well as provisions for increases if over and above legal standards. Include matters like health insurance premium, educational tuition fees, college expenses, dental fees, emergency needs and miscellaneous expenses.

Mediation provision.

In case of conflict in the interpretation of provisions of the parenting agreement, or in cases of modification of the agreement, it is best to specify mediation as the primary solution for ironing out differences or changing the agreement’s terms. You may also specify the name of the agency from where the mediator will be chosen. This paragraph should also specify how the mediator’s fees will be paid, and by whom.

Moveaways or relocation provision.

If you are the non-custodial parent, you may also include a clause prohibiting the custodial parent from moving away to a place outside a certain radius from you without prior notification to you and the court, and without your prior approval.

Tax matters.

If you are the non-custodial parent, you may want to negotiate with your ex for a waiver of the tax exemptions applicable for each child. If you have two or more children between you and your ex, you may decide to split the tax exemptions by having her waive the exemption for one child in your favor. If she agrees to the exemption, ensure the execution of the specific waiver by stating that she shall turn over a completed and signed tax exemption waiver form.

Simplified accounting of child support.

This provision not only helps you see where the child support payment is being spent, but it will also help you determine whether the children’s needs are being met by the amount of child support.

Parental decisions.

Some find it necessary to include a statement requiring the custodial parent to discuss and consult first with the non-custodial parent, matters such as the choice of school, medical care or child care before a final decision is reached.

Period of the agreement.

The parties may agree to an effective period of two years and agree to renew the agreement or enter into a new round of discussions for a modified agreement after the initial period has expired.