The Mel Gibson – Oksana Grigorieva custody dispute made headlines again this week with the release of a custody agreement between Mel and Oksana. The agreement spelled out a detailed placement schedule, culminating in equal placement when the child reaches the age of three.
There was just one problem: The agreement apparently was never signed by a judge and entered as a court order. When Oksana changed her mind and disavowed the agreement, it became worthless.
In our Wisconsin family law practice at Wessel, Lehker, & Fumelle, we strongly encourage parents to work together to try to reach agreements regarding placement and custody of their children. Studies (and common sense) show that it is better for everyone concerned – and especially for the children – if parents can resolve these difficult issues themselves, rather than leaving them to a judge to decide.
In Wisconsin, however, parental agreements are unenforceable unless they are reduced to writing and signed by a judge. Thus, even in the most amicable of family dissolutions, parenting agreements should be converted to court orders. This important step is not the first shot in a litigation war, but rather a continuation of the process of the parents working together for the protection of both parents and the children. A custody and placement order protects everyone; a custody and placement agreement protects no one.