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Understanding the risks of an informal parenting agreement 

When two unmarried parents choose to part ways, it is tempting to make an informal parenting agreement instead of going through a court to create an official custody agreement and parenting plan. Most parents who pursue this path part ways on relatively good terms and want the best for their child. Others may simply want to avoid legal costs and believe that an informal agreement works for them at the time, or some combination of the two.

It is certainly possible for loving, thoughtful parents to part ways amicably, and working collaboratively can yield great outcomes for parents and children alike. However, it is important to understand that the law takes parents' duties and rights seriously, and it is always wise to use the strength of the law to protect one's own rights.

If you and your child's other parent enjoy good communication and act in good faith toward each other now, this may not always be the case. For your sake and for the sake of the child you love, you must make sure that any agreement you reach results in a legally sound document that upholds your interests fairly.

Protecting your rights and responsibilities

No matter what reason you may have for considering an informal parenting agreement, it is important to consider what you have at stake. For instance, if you make an informal custody agreement that is not in writing or fails to meet the court's requirements, the other parent may change their position and break your agreement easily. While you may still fight to win your rights back, it is much less costly, emotionally and financially, to create a strong, legally biding agreement the first time.

Working with the other parent in an informal setting can lead to a truly fair agreement, as long as the end product holds up in court and supports both parents. At the heart of any parenting agreement should be the best interests of the child, and two parents who love their child well can find this common ground.

However, it is rarely wise to negotiate these agreements without any kind of legal guidance. Most parents do not have a detailed understanding of family law, and therefore may not understand all of the issues that their agreement should address. Well-meaning parents may easily create an agreement with large omissions that make their lives much more difficult later on. If you do choose to create an informal agreement, it is wise to review the agreement with your own qualified legal counsel, to ensure that your rights remain secure.

Building the next chapter of your life

Breaking up with your child's other parent is a significant life event, whether you've gone through the experience before or it is your first time. A parenting agreement protects your rights and creates expectations around how you take part in raising your child. In a very real way, this agreement affects the rest of your life and the rest of your child's life, because it impacts how you raise the child to be a full adult. Make sure to use all the resources and guidance you need to create an agreement that honors your relationship to your child and keeps this bond protected.

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Robert Schembs
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