Do we have to go to court to determine child custody?

On behalf of Stange Law Firm, PC posted in child custody on Wednesday, May 4, 2016.

The short answer to the question posed in this headline is: no. If you are getting divorced (or were never married to the other parent of your child), you need to establish a parenting plan, but you don’t necessarily have to go to court to do it.

There are several alternatives to filing a lawsuit and going to court for child custody. However, every situation is unique, so it is crucial that you understand the limitations and benefits associated with each method.

There is the very informal approach to designing your parenting plan. You can simply discuss your wishes with the other parent. If you agree on the terms right away or are able to resolve any issues that arise on your own, you can put those terms in writing and file that agreement with the court. The only court hearing you’ll likely have is one to ensure both parties are voluntarily agreeing to terms they understand so the court can approve the agreement. This is often the easiest, calmest and most cost-effective option.

Options that are slightly more formal include mediation or collaboration. These alternative dispute resolution methods still allow parents to design their own parenting plans, but there are other parties that are involved, including a neutral third party like a mediator or arbitrator as well as attorneys. There may be more negotiations and/or complex disputes involved with these options, but the added support is intended to help parents get through them to create a reasonable custody agreement.

If none of these options work or if they were never a good option to begin with, then yes: the case will go to court. Litigation is typically reserved for people who cannot come to an agreement on their own and situations involving matters like contested divorces, domestic violence and/or complex parenting concerns.

So while there are many ways to avoid litigation when it comes to creating a parenting plan, it cannot always be avoided.

Before you make any decisions on which method to pursue, you would be wise to discuss the options and details of your situation with an attorney. The legal guidance and knowledge of an attorney can prove to be a critical resource in helping you identify the best solution.

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