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Can we negotiate a child custody arrangement out of court?

Earlier this week, our Dallas family law blog discussed the case of an NBA star who reached a settlement of child custody and other issues with the mother of his daughter after a months-long legal dispute. We want to take some time in this follow-up entry to emphasize that such out-of-court settlements aren't the exclusive province of celebrities, pro athletes and others making eight figure salaries or more. There are a number of options available for divorcing couples in Dallas who want to work together on such issues.

Informal negotiations are simply that -- two parents (whether unmarried or going through a divorce) discussing their preferences and eventually arriving at a mutual decision. This final agreement will be put in writing and eventually presented to a judge for approval. Couples may choose to have their legal representatives involved to some degree even in informal negotiations; they may have their attorneys do the negotiating itself or they may just run their final agreement by their attorneys to make sure it will pass muster by a judge.

Alternative Dispute Resolution is a more formal, structured option. For parents wrestling with a more challenging child custody dispute, or who find it difficult to cooperate in an informal setting, ADR may still allow them to take advantage of some of the flexibility and benefits of an out-of-court settlement. A professional mediator will attempt to help parents work through their concerns and arrive at an agreement.

However the agreement is reached, a judge will need to review it. The judge may ask questions of the parents at a hearing in order to verify that the agreement was negotiated fairly and the terms are balanced. If approved, it will become a court order and legally binding upon the parties.

This overview is intended as general information only, not specific legal advice. Crafting an out-of-court child custody agreement has its advantages, but is not necessarily for everyone. A legal professional can directly assist parents considering this option and can support whichever process they choose.

Source: Findlaw.com, "Working Together to Resolve Custody," accessed on Dec. 2, 2014

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