For divorcing parents, often the most important issue to work out is who will have custody of the children, and how visitation will work for the other parent. Generally, when drafting a settlement agreement, the following custody issues should be addressed:
- Primary physical and legal custody
- Decision making authority
- How the parties will communicate regarding the children
- Weekly visitation
- Summer visitation
- Holiday visitation
- Telephone/email visitation
When reviewing a proposed settlement agreement, it is important to remember that every divorce is different, and every set of parents and children are different. Therefore, after hitting the high points listed above, it will likely be necessary to modify or add to terms in the proposed agreement. For example, you will want to ensure that the agreement provides for a visitation schedule for all holidays that are important to you. While Easter may be very important to one family, a Jewish family will likely want to make sure Passover visitation is included.
In addition, if substance abuse is an issue in the divorce, a parent will want to make sure there is an alcohol/drugs clause in the agreement. Also, if one parent travels a lot for work, the other parent may want a right of first refusal for visitation, rather than having the children stay with a babysitter.
If you and/or your spouse are working with attorneys in your divorce action, you will likely be shown a template settlement agreement as a starting point. Remember this is just a first draft and it can be modified to suit the needs of your particular family. It may be helpful to take some time by yourself to think about what is most important to you and really think through how you want to live your life after the divorce. The more prepared each party is, the better negotiations will go.