If you’re thinking about having and raising a child in a shared parenting arrangement, don’t take another step before you read this guide. When should an agreement be drawn up and which issues must be regulated in it? A lawyer explains:
Today, it’s clear that the old model of having children with a mother and father in monogamous marriages is not the only model and there are more and more new families. Men and women can bond together for the sake of having a child without having a romantic or marital relationship, and LGBTQ+ couples also become parents. The parenting journey begins with a connection between people, a connection that will yield a parenting agreement, fertilization in one way or another and – at the end – a baby.
This seems to be the perfect set-up for a couple of people with a common goal: to be parents in shared parenting and to raise a child together, making them a family. But for this dream to become a reality, it is important to plan it well and carefully.
How to find the right partners to parent
Usually there are two people who have some kind of basic personal acquaintance between them, but sometimes people don’t know each other and only connect for the sake of shared parenting. There are groups and communities on social networks on the topic of shared parenting through which two people may get to know each other, and there are connections made through shared acquaintances. In fact, the same possibilities that lie ahead for two people to find a romantic relationship also apply to those who are interested in a relationship for the purpose of having children.
First of all, and most importantly - an agreement
How can this fairy tale turn to dust? A great many of these connections don’t sign a contract, and this is the first mistake. When you buy an apartment, you make a contract and go to a lawyer, consult, think and check. But when you go into the process of parenting with someone, you "trust" them. This is the first cause of conflict.
In my office, there is currently a case of a father and mother with a shared parenting arrangement. They talked about drafting an agreement, thought about it, talked about what would happen. She told him all costs would be equally divided. She also very much wanted an involved father to take the children half the time, and that she would stay in Tel Aviv to raise the children. He trusted her.
Twins were born, and already in the hospital the mother asked that the father not be admitted to the nursery, and security was ordered only to explain to the mother that it was the father's right. She then tried to register the babies without him with names he didn’t agree to. After the birth, she moved to Haifa. What shared parenting and joint custody can exist within 60 kilometers? What could have prevented this terrible situation? A contract.
Shared parenting - how to do it right and avoid wars
Even before the pregnancy, the first part of the agreement should discuss the process of conception. Is it insemination, fertilization or sexual intercourse? Define in advance that all treatment costs will be split evenly between both parties.
The course of pregnancy, tests and level of involvement
Be sure to address the issue of involvement in pregnancy tests and how many you decide on. Does the father want to be present at every test or just the halfway ultrasound? Who else can be there (for example, the parents' spouses, if any)?
Pre-determine agreements regarding treatments, tests and doctors - what will be performed by the child’s health fund, and what in private medicine. Here, too, the costs need to be shared equally between the parents.
Conduct at birth and after
The agreement should anchor the father's presence at birth, at the brit mila (Jewish circumcision), and at each milestone. The contract can also regulate the possibility that the father will stay with the mother to be with the baby on the first few and most important nights and also help the mom during labor. This clause should be done in accordance with the agreement of both parties.
How to divide the time spent with the child
The division of time should be determined in advance and be gradual according to the age of the baby. For example, in the first three months the dad visits for several hours at the mother's house. For ages three to nine months, the father can take the baby to the park, visit family and the like. It’s also possible to schedule overnight stays at the father's home and increase their frequency gradually until towards the age of one-and-a-half to two years the time will be divided equally between the parents.
What to watch out for
The agreement between the parties can be approved in the Family Court only after the baby is born. Before that, there is no legal entity and no one is guaranteed to be born. Therefore, signing an agreement is significant, but not binding until there is court approval.
Does everything have to be predetermined? No, the agreement can be changed over the years.
Future changes to the agreement can only be with the consent of both parties. If there’s a dispute between the parties, this is exactly where the agreement comes into play.
In another case I’m dealing with, a client of mine who signed an agreement after the birth of the girl refused to comply with the terms of the contract. She was sued by the father, and the court made it clear that they couldn’t enforce an agreement they didn’t approve but would manage the case under the same contract that shows the true intent of the parties and not what the mother wants today because it’s difficult for her to part from the child. At the same time, the court always rules in the best interests of the child and isn’t bound by the agreement.
How the agreement regulates the future costs of raising a child
There is also the economic part of the agreement, which relates to payments for raising the child. This isn’t a divorce case, but two people who have banded together for the benefit of co-parenting and know what they’re getting into. They want a child and should be willing to pay the expenses. And so here, too, the basis should be egalitarian.
The burden of the parents should be shared not only financially but also emotionally. That is why it’s very important to choose a person with whom you have very good communication and share the same values of education, seeing eye-to-eye on the important things in life. Otherwise, the fantasy may turn into a nightmare.
Adv. Amy Bonnie Bechor is a family law expert.