Divorce is a funny thing.
When you’re married, you share everything. You share kids. You share money. You share your home. You share your life.
Then you decide to divorce, and everything changes.
Suddenly, you don’t share anything, including the kids. You disagree about who should be with the kids and for how much time. It’s a mess.
Sometimes, you come to an understanding about custody and parent-time. You work out a schedule and stick with it for a while. All of this is unwritten, of course, because what parent writes down the time they spend with their kids? (Answer: none.)
So, with this understanding in mind, the question becomes: why should you have a written agreement about custody?
There are so many reasons. Let me go over a few:
- You can’t enforce an unwritten custody agreement.
If your ex changes the custody agreement, you have nothing to prove what the agreement used to be. Bottom line: you can’t enforce that which you can’t read.
- If it’s not written, no one’s going to follow it very long.
I’ve seen very few situations in which parents follow unwritten agreement for very long. When you don’t have something in writing to fall back on, people start making up new parent-time schedules and then telling the other person about them.
- Your ex can move away with your kids whenever he or she wants.
If you don’t a written custody agreement, you and your ex are both free to move to another city or state whenever you want. Sounds absurd and dirty, but it’s true. We’ve seen it happen to good parents more times than we can count.
- You’ll have a hard time collecting/paying the correct child support.
If you don’t spell out your custody arrangements in writing and lay out the number of overnights your kids spend with each of you, you’ll have a difficult time calculating the correct child support. Practically, this means someone will always pay too much or too little, which creates resentment on both sides.
And, if refuses to pay child support, you don’t have anything to prove what those payments should have been. Makes it almost impossible to collect.
- If you disagree about the parent-time schedule, you don’t have anything to prove your right.
Parent-time schedules can get complicated (holidays, summer, trading days, etc.), and if you don’t have a base schedule written down, you can argue for days. If it’s written down, you can go back to the agreement and see who’s right.
- It creates conflict.
If you have a written custody agreement and parent-time schedule, you argue less. And arguing less means less stress and headache. No one likes to fight with their ex, so minimize the opportunity for conflict. Write it down.
What Type of Written Custody Agreement Should We Have?
Now that we’ve established why you should have a written custody agreement, let’s talk about what type of agreement that should be.
What I mean is should you have an agreement you just write up, or one from the courts?
A written agreement is better than no written agreement, but if it’s not from the court (e.g., a divorce decree, temporary order, or child custody order), then it’s not worth much.
To be enforceable and give you peace of mind, you need a divorce decree or order from the court. Anything else is going to leave you lacking.