Before you begin to draft your child custody agreement, you need to understand the difference between two terms: custody and access. Custody refers to the right to make important decisions about your child’s health and wellbeing, religious practices and education. It does not refer to how much time your child will spend in your care. The correct term for that is access. Child custody agreements will need to clarify both custody and access, as well as how future disputes will be resolved to be effective in the long term.
There are three basic child custody options (referring to who has the power to make decisions):
- Sole custody: In this option, one parent has the decision-making power. The other parent still has a right to be informed about major decisions and to express their opinions during decision-making, but one parent has the final say.
- Joint custody: Here, both parents retain equal decision-making power, even if access is not 50/50. For this option to work, the ability to communicate and cooperate is essential.
- Split custody: This option would involve more than one child, where one parent was awarded sole custody of one or more children and the other was awarded sole custody of another child or children. This might happen if the children are older and given the opportunity to voice their own preference.
Once custody has been established, access must be considered. Shared access agreements can range from fixed schedules (for example, one week with one parent, one week with the other) to open schedules (where parents regularly discuss upcoming work schedules and plan accordingly). Access can also be limited to supervised visits or even no access for one parent, though these situations are rare and would generally need a court’s approval.