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5 Essentials for Your Child Custody Agreement

If you've searched for sample child custody agreement forms on the Internet, you know that no two custody agreements are the same. If you're negotiating an agreement with a lawyer's assistance, he or she will help ensure that you don't accidentally omit any essential information. And the judge who reviews and approves the agreement will certainly let you know if anything has been left out.

There is a lot of flexibility in what can be included in a child custody agreement, but here are five essential details that must be included in your agreement:

One: Who has legal and physical custody of your child?

Parents usually use one of three types of child custody arrangements: Sole custody gives one parent both legal and physical custody of the child. Joint custody gives both parents shared physical and/or legal custody of their child. Split custody gives one parent legal and physical custody of one or more of the couple's children and the other parent legal and physical custody of the rest of the couple's children. All custody agreements will detail who has custody of the children and what type of custody they have.

Two: What is the visitation schedule?

Your custody agreement should spell out the non-custodial parent's visitation schedule on a weekly basis, during school vacations and on holidays. You should also address how changes to the visitation schedule will be handled. (A joint custody agreement will also describe how physical custody will be split between the two parents.)

Three: Who is responsible for making major decisions regarding the children's care and upbringing?

Raising a child involves a series of decisions, some more significant than others. Your child custody agreement should address whether and to what extent the non-custodial parent will be involved in major decisions involving your children. At the very least, you'll want to describe each parent's role in decisions regarding education, religion and health care. You should also consider addressing how disciplinary rules will be created and consistently applied by both parents.

Four: How will costs be split among parents?

The custody agreement should also describe which parent will be responsible for major costs that are not covered by child support. For example, you'll want to decide which parent is responsible for including the child on his or her health insurance plan. Who will cover the child's tuition? And which parent is entitled to claim the child as a dependent for tax purposes?

Five: How will issues not covered by the child support agreement be addressed?

It is important to remember that no child custody agreement is perfect. Disagreements will occur. Changes may be necessary. You might not anticipate everything that should have been covered in the agreement. During the custody negotiations, talk to your spouse about how you'll address these issues when they occur, and include it in your custody agreement.