Unlock the Secrets of Informal Custody Agreements: What You Need to Know to Protect Your Child’s Best Interests!

If you’re a parent going through a separation or divorce, you may wonder about custody arrangements for your children. 

In some cases, parents can come to an informal custody agreement without involving the courts or a mediator. 

In general, an informal custody agreement is an agreement between parents that outlines how they will share custody and exercise visitation with the children without involving the courts. 

In this article, we’ll explain informal custody agreements, how they work, and the risk you face if you enter into an informal custody arrangement.

What is an Informal Custody Agreement?

An informal custody agreement can also be known as a parenting plan. It is an agreement between parents that outlines how they will share custody of their children. 

These agreements can be appealing because they are often less expensive and more flexible than formal custody orders.

The downside to informal custody agreements, informal custody agreements are not legally binding. 

While these agreements are not legally binding, they can provide a framework for parents to follow and can be used as evidence of an understanding if issues arise in the future.

How Does an Informal Custody Agreement Work?

Informal custody agreements are typically created by the parents themselves, without the assistance of lawyers or mediators. 

The agreement may be a verbal agreement, a written agreement, or a combination of both. It should outline the parenting schedule, including which parent the child will live with and when, and how holidays, vacations, and other special occasions will be handled.

In addition to the parenting schedule, the agreement may include provisions for how decisions about the child’s upbringing will be made, such as where the child will attend school or what religion the child will practice. 

Informal custody agreements may also address child support.

What Should You Consider Before Entering into an Informal Custody Agreement?

Before entering into an informal custody agreement, there are several factors that you should consider. 

First and foremost, you should consider the best interests of your child. This means creating a custody agreement that provides your child stability, consistency, and security. 

You should also consider your ability to adhere to the agreement, as well as the ability of the other parent to do the same.

It’s important to remember that informal custody agreements are not legally binding. This means that if one parent disregards the agreement, there may be little recourse for the other parent. 

If you have concerns about the other parent’s ability or willingness to adhere to the agreement, consider involving a mediator or seeking a formal custody order from the court.

What is the Biggest Risk of an Informal Custody Agreement?

It is essential to understand the potential risks associated with informal custody agreements. 

The most significant risk of an informal custody agreement is that they are not legally enforceable. If one parent violates the agreement, the other parent may have little recourse.

For example, if one parent fails to return the child at the agreed-upon time, the other parent can do nothing to enforce the agreement. 

Another risk of informal custody agreements is that they may not adequately protect the child. 

For example, if one parent has a history of substance abuse or domestic violence, an informal agreement may not provide enough safeguards to ensure the child’s safety. If your ex violates your informal agreement to not drink around the child, there will be little you can do about it. 

What Are The Essential Items to Include in an Informal Custody Agreement? 

While there is no standard format for an informal custody agreement, some essential items to include are:

  • Custody and visitation schedule: This outlines when the child will be in the care of each parent or guardian, including weekends, holidays, and special occasions.

  • Parenting responsibilities: This includes who will make decisions about the child’s education, healthcare, and other important matters, as well as who will be responsible for day-to-day care such as meals, transportation, and discipline.

  • Holidays and special occasions: Determine how holidays and special occasions will be divided between the parents. This can include birthdays, religious holidays, and school breaks.

  • Education and extracurricular activities: Determine who will make decisions about the child’s education, including school choice and extracurricular activities. Also, specify how the costs of these activities will be divided.

  • Health care: Determine how the child’s medical and dental expenses will be covered and how decisions about health care will be made. This can include specifying who will be responsible for scheduling appointments and who will accompany the child to appointments.

  • Communication between parents: You must establish guidelines for communication between parents, including how often they will check in with each other, how they will handle disputes, and how they will communicate about the child’s needs.

  • Child support: If one parent pays child support, the agreement should specify the amount and how it will be paid.

  • Pick-up and drop-off times: Be specific about the exact times each parent is responsible for picking up and dropping off the child. This can include weekdays, weekends, and holidays.

  • Transportation expenses: Determine who is responsible for transportation expenses, such as gas, tolls, and parking fees. Consider splitting these costs evenly between the parents or assigning responsibility based on who is driving.

  • Mode of transportation: Specify the mode of transportation that will be used for pick-up and drop-off, such as by car, bus, or other means. Consider what will happen if the child needs to be transported to a different location, such as for school or extracurricular activities.

  • Travel: Determine how out-of-town travel with the child will be handled, including who will be responsible for making travel arrangements and who will pay for the child’s travel expenses.

  • Childcare: If the child requires childcare outside of regular school hours, determine who will be responsible for arranging and paying for childcare.

  • Moving: Determine how a move by either parent will be handled, including how the custody arrangement may need to be modified and how much notice must be given.

  • Dispute resolution: The agreement should outline how disputes will be resolved if the parents cannot agree on custody or visitation.

  • Changes to the agreement: The agreement should outline the process for making changes to the custody arrangement, including how much notice must be given and how the parents will communicate about the changes.

To Learn More About How to Create an Informal Custody Agreement and see Example Language Click Here!

How to Enter Into an Informal Custody Agreement

If you are considering entering into an informal custody agreement with your ex-spouse, it is essential to take steps to ensure that the agreement is clear, covers as many details as possible, and is in the best interests of your child.

First, the agreement should be as specific as possible about the terms of the agreement. This may include outlining a visitation schedule, specifying who will have decision-making authority for the child, and including provisions for resolving disputes. 

The more detailed the agreement, the less room for confusion or misunderstanding.

Second, even though an informal custody agreement is not done through the courts, it is a good idea to have the agreement reviewed by a lawyer. 

A lawyer can help ensure that the agreement is legally sound and that your and your child’s rights are protected. They can also advise you on any potential risks or issues that may arise from the agreement.

Third, it is crucial to communicate openly and honestly with your ex-spouse throughout the process. This may involve discussing your respective schedules, preferences, and concerns about the custody arrangement. 

By working together and being transparent, you can increase the chances of a successful and long-lasting custody agreement.

Fourth, you need to keep accurate records of the custody arrangement. This may include keeping track of visitation schedules, communication between you and your ex-spouse, and any changes or modifications to the agreement. 

By keeping detailed records, you can avoid misunderstandings and help resolve disputes if they arise.

What to Do If Your Informal Custody Agreement is Not Working?

If you have already entered into an informal custody agreement and are experiencing problems, there are steps you can take to enforce the agreement. 

One option is to seek mediation or counseling to try to resolve the issue outside of court.

If mediation is unsuccessful, you may need to go to court to seek enforcement of the agreement. This can be complex and time-consuming, so working with a lawyer with family law experience can be helpful.

In some cases, seeking a formal custody order from the court may be necessary. A formal custody order is a legally binding agreement that outlines the custody and visitation arrangements for the child. 

The court can enforce this order, providing greater protection for the child and the parents.

If you are facing custody issues, you should seek legal assistance to protect your and your child’s rights. A family law attorney can help you navigate the legal system and make informed decisions about your custody arrangements.


In conclusion, informal custody agreements can be a helpful tool for parents who can work together to create a parenting plan for their children. 

However, before entering into an informal custody agreement, it’s essential to consider your child’s best interests, your ability to adhere to the agreement, and the potential legal implications of the agreement. 

Consulting with an attorney can help ensure that your rights and your child’s rights are protected.

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Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

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