For many divorcing parents, reaching an agreement on child custody and support can be difficult. However, it’s usually not necessary to go through a contentious court battle in California. Parents may reach an agreement either by negotiation or through a process of alternative dispute resolution.
The parents could negotiate directly or with the help of their lawyers. In the former case, they may want to have their attorneys review their agreement. Mediation and collaborative divorce allow parents to participate in deciding what the custody and support agreement will look like. Arbitration is a much rarer tool for family law cases, but it involves a neutral third party listening to the facts of the case and coming to a decision. The arbiter’s decision does not have to be legally binding, but it may help parents resolve some disagreements before going to court.
In both cases, an agreement needs to include such details as how much the parent will pay, how long the parent will owe support and how often the payments will be made. The agreement should be put in writing and submitted to a judge for approval. The parents might also attend a short court hearing. With a legally binding agreement, either parent can seek the help of the legal system if the other does not honor the terms of the agreement.
Over time, parents might need to return to court to modify the agreement. For example, an older child might want to live with the other ex, or a custodial parent’s situation may change so that it is no longer possible for the child to live there. A parent who pays child support may need to request a modification because of losing a job or another life issues. For more minor issues, family courts generally prefer that parents work out the problems themselves. Whether the issue is minor or major, legal counsel could provide valuable support.