Create an agreement or ask a judge to decide

To finish your case, you and the other parent can try to reach an agreement on child custody, visitation (parenting time), and child support. If you agree, you need to write up and sign an agreement and submit it to the judge to review and sign. If you can't agree, you can ask a judge to decide at a trial or a hearing.


If you are the victim of domestic violence, consider your safety. Talk to a lawyer or domestic violence counselor first. 



Tips to reach an agreement

Whether you and the other parent reach an agreement or decide you want a judge to decide, you should learn some laws about child custody, visitation (parenting time), and child support. Your agreement will need to address many of these laws. If you end up not being able to agree, the judge will use these laws to make a decision.

Before you try to reach an agreement, it's good to understand some basic laws and rules. Your agreement must follow what the law requires when it comes to the best interests of your child.

Child custody and visitation (parenting time)

Judges must base custody and visitation decisions on the best interests of a child.

It's a general policy that both parents should have frequent and ongoing contact with their child after they separate, except in certain situations, like domestic violence.

You’ll need to discuss and agree on:

  • Who will have legal custody or if you will share it (called “joint”) 

    Legal custody deals with who makes important decisions in your child's life, like education, health care, and more. 

  • Who will have physical custody or if you will share it 

    Physical custody is who your children live with most of the time. If you share your children close to equal time, it can also be joint.  

  • How you will share parenting time

    Visitation, also called parenting time, is the plan for how you will each share time with your children, including school days, weekends, holidays, vacations, and special occasions. 


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For more help, there are many resources to help you develop a parenting plan for children of different ages or if you have safety concerns for when your child is with the other parent.


Child support

Both parents must financially support their children.

Courts generally order support based on a guideline amount. In general, you can agree to an amount above or below the guideline. But, you must:

  • Be informed about the guideline amount
  • Agree that the amount agreed to meets your child's needs and is in their best interest

Also, to agree to an amount that's different than the guideline, you generally can't be receiving or applying for public assistance.

You'll need to discuss and agree on: 

  • The court's amount of “guideline” support 

    A judge will only approve an agreement if they know how much child support would be if you went to court. This is called “guideline” child support. You can agree to a different amount but still need to tell the court the “guideline” number.  

  • Who will pay for health insurance 

    In addition to child support, you must also agree on which parent will be responsible for health insurance for your children. Health insurance is required if it is available at a reasonable cost.  

  • Who will pay for other expenses 

    In addition to child support, parents can also agree on how they will pay for other things like child care, uncovered medical expenses, and travel expenses for visitation.  

Read more about child support

People work things out in different ways. You do not have to sit down together. If you get along this may be possible. Other times, it is easier to work things out over the phone, text, or email. 

When you do try to work things out whether in person, by phone, or in writing, it can help to 

  • Start with what you already agree on. Starting from points of agreement can help you move on to tackle what you don't agree about. 
  • Start by talking about goals and interests for issues you don't agree on right away. You may find that you and your child's other parent share similar goals or interests so you can work together to meet the goals. For example, you may agree that you don't want your child to have to switch schools, or you agree that you want a parent at home with the child after school.
illustration of someone asking for help

Sometimes having someone who is not involved in your case explain things can help you reach an agreement. 

  • See what services your Self-Help Center offers or suggests 

    In some Self-Help Centers, the staff can meet with you and the other parent. They can’t give you legal advice, but they can offer information about the law and tools that others have used to reach an agreement. If they don't offer this type of help, they may know of local organizations that do. 

  • Find out about mediation programs in your community 

    Many counties have free mediation programs that help people work out agreements.  

  • Find out what services local lawyers offer 

    While it can be very expensive to hire a lawyer to handle your whole case, many lawyers charge less to work with you on specific parts of your case. Ask if they offer mediation or will do a consultation.  

If you agree, write up and sign your agreement

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Write up and sign an agreement to give to the judge to finish your case


1. You can use court forms to write out what you agreed to for child custody, visitation (parenting time), and support

You can use multiple court forms to write out what you agree to for custody, visitation, and support. For example, you can use

  • Child Custody and Visitation (Parenting time) Order Attachment (form FL-341)

    States what you and your child's other parent agreed to for the care of your children.

  • Child Support Information and Order Attachment (form FL-342)

    States what you and your child's other parent agreed to about child support.

There are other forms you can attach to these if your agreement has more details.

2. Write and sign an agreement that says you want a judgment entered

You will need to write out an agreement (called a stipulation for entry of judgment) that says you both agree that you want the judge to make your agreement part of your judgment (the final order from the judge). There is no form for this. You can ask your court's Self-Help Center if your court has a form they've created you can use or a sample you can use.

You and the other parent both need to sign the agreement. If the parent who is the respondent did not file response and plans to default, then they will need to have their signature notarized

3. Submit your agreement along with final forms to the judge to review and sign

Once you have an agreement, you need to complete more forms to give to the judge. The final forms you need to fill out depend if there's a default (the parent who is not the respondent did not file a response) or if the other parent did file a response.

Get instructions to 

If you don't yet agree on some things

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Ask the judge to decide

Ask for an order in a hearing

If you aren't able to agree on something - especially child custody and visitation (parenting time) - you can use the Request for Order process to ask for a court date (a hearing) so a judge can make a decision. Before you have a hearing, you and the other parent can meet with a mediator who can help you try to reach an agreement about child custody and visitation.

If you do reach an agreement or if the judge decides at a hearing, you and the other parent can agree to use the agreement or order to finish your case.

Ask for a trial

If there are a lot of complex issues and you'll have many witnesses, you may need a trial. At a trial, a judge can decide all the issues in your case and this will become the final order (judgment).

Each court has its own process for how you need to set a case for trial. When you get the trial date, the court may set other court dates and give you other tasks to complete, like a trial brief. Talk to your Self-Help Center or a lawyer to learn more about how to ask for and prepare for a trial.

You can ask to change a child custody, visitation, or child support order later

You can move forward to finish your case (get a judgment) and change orders later if needed. To ask to change an order, you use the Request for Order process. You'll need to explain what changed since the judge made the last order.

For example, your judgment may have a visitation (parenting time) schedule that works while your child is younger or based on your work schedule. But, as your child gets older or your work schedule changes, you can ask a judge to change the order. Or, if your or the other parent's income changes, you can ask to change child support.

Custody orders (unlike visitation and support orders) in a Judgment are considered “final” orders. If you later need to change a final order, you need to show that there has been a significant change in your (or the other parent’s or the child’s) situation.
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