Termination, Child Support, and Custody - What Can Parents Agree To? / by Cassandra Hearn

The vast majority of cases today are settled out of court.  Sometimes the parties come to an agreement on their own, and sometimes they get help from a mediator.  However they arrive at their settlement, these agreements can have vast benefits over going to court.  In settling, parties can save money on attorney's fees, the case can be over faster, and the parties maintain a degree of control over the outcome of their case.  In some circumstances, however, there may be limits to what the parties can agree to in a settlement agreement.

One major limit to the subject matter of a settlement agreement is termination of parental rights.  Where the parent seeking termination has re-married and the new spouse wants to adopt the child or children, then termination of parental rights of the other parent may be an option.  However, termination of parental rights is not an option where there is not another parent to step in.  Parents cannot agree to forgive child support arrearages or similar deals in exchange for getting the other parent to give up parental rights if there is not a step-parent ready to adopt.

Child support may also be an area where parties may run into problems with making an agreement.  Child support is determined by child support guidelines, which are set by statute.  A very particular child support calculator is used to determine how much support should be paid to the custodial parent.  Parents may agree to deviate from the support guidelines, but must be able to demonstrate a good reason for that deviation.  If parents agree to deviate to an unreasonably low amount in consideration of the parties' respective financial circumstances, the judge may refuse to approve the agreement, as such a financial arrangement would not be in the best interest of the child.

Child custody may also present special restrictions.  Judges must make child custody determinations based on the best interest of the children.  If a child custody or visitation plan is so one-sided or outrageous as to not be in the children's best interest, it is possible that a judge may refuse to enter the order.  Judges will provide a large amount of leeway to parents to decide what is best for the children, but ultimately, a parenting schedule must be what is in the children's best interest.

If you have questions about what you can agree to with regard to your divorce or custody matter, contact us today at (619) 800-0384.  We have experience helping clients with their settlements to achieve the best outcome for their future