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Do I need a written custody and parenting plan?

If you and your co-parent are separating or divorcing in Alberta, then you have options as to how you come to an agreement about a parenting plan. Your agreement doesn't have to be put into writing, but you should know that, if your agreement is informal and only verbal, then you have no proof of the agreement. This sort of situation too often leads to costly legal disputes that have a negative impact on parents and children.

As we've discussed in previous posts, processes of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) are increasingly popular among parents who want to reach an amicable agreement on child care and other matters related to divorce. If you choose mediation, for example, then the mediator can write up a custody agreement between you and your co-parent. If you choose, then you can have the agreement filed with the court.

In another ADR process known as collaborative law, whereby each party has a lawyer present during out-of-court negotiations, you and your co-parent can sign the parenting agreement in the presence of your lawyers. Your lawyer can then sign a "Certificate of Independent Legal Advice," which indicates that you were informed of your rights and obligations, as well as the terms of the agreement.

If your co-parent fails to follow the agreement, then you have the option of seeking a court order, and your signed parenting agreement can be used as evidence. Again, if you don't have such an agreement in writing, then your case may be significantly more difficult.

Keep in mind, too, that Alberta's Family Justice Services do not provide help in writing child custody agreements, and it is best to have a lawyer help you create a workable plan with your co-parent.

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