One of the judicial proceedings with great potential for high emotions and great conflict is a custody case. The laws of all states, as well as associated court processes, allow for and even encourage negotiated settlements of custody cases in order to avoid protracted litigation. At the successful conclusion of such negotiations, the parties enter into a mutual contract. In many states, this document takes the form of a notarized custody agreement.
A notarized custody agreement sets forth the specific parenting plan developed by the parties, according to the American Bar Association Section of Family Law. The plan includes the delegation of custody rights between the parents. Additionally, a visitation schedule is included in the agreement as well. Oftentimes, a custody agreement includes provisions establishing a process for dealing with any future conflicts between the parties, including accessing mediation services.
Verification and Notarization
In most jurisdictions, the requirement of notarization of a custody agreement arises out of a general verification of documents required throughout family law proceedings, according to "Nolo's Essential Guide to Divorce" by Emily Doskow. A verification clause is a statement at the conclusion of a custody agreement, under oath, through which each parent acknowledges that they read the document and that the contents accurately reflect the settlement of relevant issues. The agreement is signed in front of a notary because of the oath requirement of the verification clause.
A common misconception is that the laws of every state requires notarization of all documents relating to custody issues, including a settlement agreement. Uniform laws do not exist in this regard across the United States. You must consult with the statutes in force in your state to determine whether the requirement for notarization exists. Access statutes through the website maintained by your state legislature.
The primary benefit of a notarization of a custody agreement is that a third party is available to testify in the event a parent claims he did not voluntarily sign the agreement or that he did not understand the contents. Before signing, the notary inquires as to these types of issues before stamping and signing off on the document herself.
Ensuring that a notarized custody agreements meets all the requirements of the laws in your state is a complicated task. Facing the need to obtain such a document, consider retaining an experienced attorney to draft the agreement for you. The American Bar Association maintains a directory of local and state bar associations which provide information about attorneys who practice in different areas of the law, including family law.
- Cornell University Law School: Child custody overview
- American Bar Association: Section of family law
- "Nolo's Essential Guide to Divorce;" Emily Doskow; 2008