Child custody disputes are some of the most emotionally challenging legal issues a parent will ever face. Having a legally binding child custody agreement protects every party involved — you, your spouse, and your children. Even if you and your former spouse are on good terms, it’s important to have a custody agreement that spells out how your children will be emotionally and financially supported.
What is a Custody Agreement?
A custody agreement is a written document that outlines how your child will be cared for. Typically, agreements need to be approved by a judge to be enforceable in Tennessee. If you and your spouse can’t agree on certain custody matters, the courts may need to make the final decision.
What to Include in a Custody Agreement
When it comes to creating a custody agreement, more detail is always better. Though every family is unique, most agreements outline:
- Which parent has primary physical custody of the child.
- Which parent has legal custody of the child (this is usually the same parent that has physical custody).
- A visitation schedule. This schedule should be broken down by weekdays, weekends, holidays, and important family-related events (such as a child’s birthday or graduation).
- Child support information. Child support should be outlined, including the amount being paid/received and when. It should also include what will happen if child support payments stop.
- Parenting provisions.
Changing Your Custody Agreement Over Time
Especially if you divorce when your children are young, your custody agreement will likely need to be changed after a few years, to reflect the needs of your growing children.
And while it is possible to modify your agreement, you’ll need to prove that this change is in the best interest of your children and family. A few of the most common reasons for a modification are:
- A substantial change of circumstance of the parent or child.
- Changes in which parent is the custodial guardian.
- Changes in the parent or child’s mental or physical health.
- Needing to relocate out of state.
- There was abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
- There has been a substantial increase or decrease in one parent’s income.
What Happens When a Custody Agreement is Violated?
Custody agreements are legally binding, meaning the courts need to approve any changes that are made to it. But if your former spouse does violate an agreement, they may face a number of consequences, including:
- Being charged with a contempt order.
- Loss of visitation or custody rights.
- Jail time or criminal consequences (this is typically reserved for when violating the agreement resulted or could have resulted in harm to your child).
Most often, the goal of a repercussion is not to punish one spouse, but to force them to comply with the custody agreement.
Navigating Complex Custody Agreements
No divorce or custody agreement is boilerplate, however some factors can make an already difficult situation that much more complicated. If either party lives in another state, has a disability, has been accused of or charged with domestic violence, or previously violated a court order, creating a fair agreement will likely be more time-consuming.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Create My Custody Agreement?
Though it is possible to create an agreement yourself, you could be putting your future in jeopardy. Your custody agreement will define the nature of your relationship, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting a fair outcome.
From negotiations to the final agreement, a lawyer will ensure every deadline is met and you’re getting a just outcome.
E. Evan Cope, PLLC is a dedicated, tough, and experienced litigator who has practiced law in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and throughout Middle Tennessee since 2001. Contact our law office today online or at (615) 640-4241 to request an initial consultation.