Today almost half of all births in the United States occur outside of marriage. This is the new normal but the law hasn’t necessarily caught up. Laws vary by state on parental rights for non-married parents. In New York, biological parents do not have automatic parental rights or obligations to their children, including child support and child custody, or the right to make important decisions about the child’s future such as education, health care and religion. Parents either have to agree on these issues, or a court will do it for them.
Healthy co-parenting that stems from thoughtful agreements you’ve made together is in the best interests of your child and makes both the parents and the child feel secure. If you have a child and are not legally married to the other biological parent, you need legal protection to clearly define each parent’s rights and responsibilities.
A well-written parenting and child support agreement is a roadmap of how you will raise and support your child together while living in separate homes and will help you avoid costly, stressful and time-consuming litigation.
What Is Covered in a Parenting Agreement?
A parenting plan should cover the main parental rights and obligations of both parents for each child:
- Legal Custody:
Who has the authority and responsibility to make major decisions for the child? This includes decisions about health care, education, and even smaller issues like haircuts and ear piercing. Legal custody can be sole (only one parent decides) or joint (both parents have the authority to make decisions).
- Physical Custody:
Will the child reside primarily with one parent or reside with each parent an equal time amount of time? What will the actual schedule be during the week? The parenting plan should include a schedule with calendar dates and specific drop off/pick up arrangements. What happens in the event the schedule needs to change?
- Holidays, School Breaks, and Vacations:
How will holidays and school breaks be divided between the parents? Are there any restrictions on traveling with the child out of state, or out of the country, during vacations?
- Financial Obligations:
How much will the noncustodial parent pay in child support? Who is responsible for childcare costs, health insurance, medical care, tuition and other educational expenses, and any other foreseen expenses of raising a child. How will unforeseen expenses be discussed?
- Co-Parenting Decisions:
A parenting plan can include other important issues such as:
- healthcare and vaccinations
- religious observance
- sports and leisure activities
- Extended Family and Friends:
Are there any concerns about certain family members being alone with the child? How and when will a parent’s future romantic partner be introduced to the child?
How will the co-parents communicate with each other? How will they communicate with the child?
What will happen in case of relocation, remarriage, or substantial income increase/decrease? The parties should include procedures for reevaluating and modifying the child support and parenting plan as the child grows and circumstances change. Children’s needs change as they age, and parent’s circumstances will likely change in unforeseen ways.
The unique circumstances of your family will determine how you answer these questions and the agreement that you ultimately reach. Keep in mind, however, that your parenting and child support agreement must comply with your state’s child custody and child support laws. If the parents live in different states, the parenting plan will be based on the law of the state where the child primarily resides.
How Do You Actually Agree on Terms for a Parenting and Child Support Agreement?
A well thought out and well-written child custody and parenting plan will help you move toward a successful relationship with your child’s other parent. A collaborative family lawyer or mediator can help you identify, discuss and negotiate a plan that gives you and your co-parent the opportunity to discuss and consider any or all of the issues that will arise during your child’s life. What may be a good parenting schedule at one age may not be appropriate as children grow. By negotiating your agreement out of court, you and your co-parent can look forward and come to agreements about how changes will be negotiated in the future.
At Vacca Law & Mediation, we are ready to help you find the right parenting and support agreement for your child and your situation. Contact us today.