Why It Must Be In Writing

You and your child’s other parent (your co-parent) have told each other that you’re going to work things out outside of court and agree to a parenting plan. You’ve always gotten along well as co-parents but your relationship as spouses or significant others have fallen apart. You like your co-parent but agree that it’s not going to work out between you. Because you live close to each other, you agree that the arrangement should be based on your children’s’ schedules and whatever works best for them. You and your co-parent do this without any problems for about 6 months. Then…..your co-parent meets the new significant other (“friend”), who also happens to have children that are subject to a written custody agreement. Yay…

The new “friend” and your child’s co-parent decide that it makes the most sense for their children to spend time together. Although this sounds great in theory, what happens in practice is that because your plan was never in writing, it’s as if it doesn’t exist. Your child’s co-parent changes things around considerably and you are left with much less parenting time and even less right to object. In the legal world, if there is no agreement in writing, there is no agreement. Period.

This can have other implications. Suppose your co-parent wants to take the children to Florida to spend time with the new friend’s family for a vacation. You don’t know this person or any of the family, and have no information or itinerary about the trip. You are not pleased about any of it. So what can you do? Sorry to tell you, sports fans…..nothing. It’s not as if there’s something in writing that says that each parent must provide the other with a detailed itinerary and approve any out of state trips or vacations at least thirty (30) days in advance. You cannot ask law enforcement to enforce something that doesn’t exist.

Law enforcement can only get involved when there’s something in writing. More importantly, if there is a written agreement, you can file a petition for contempt with the court and ask that your agreement be enforced. You can ask for some type of punishment (usually a fee). If you want to change the agreement, you must file a separate petition to modify.

The takeaway from this cautionary scenario is this. Put your parenting plan in writing. Putting it in writing does not necessarily mean that you have to go to court and testify. You can ask your attorney to prepare and file it with the court, and ask the judge to make it a court order. By doing this now, you save yourself much agita and attorney’s fees later on.

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