Contractualizing Custody

October 1, 2014

Many scholars otherwise in favor of the enforcement of family contracts agree that parent-child relationships should continue to prove the exception to any contractualized family law regime. This Article instead questions the continued refusal to enforce contracts concerning parental rights to children’s custody. It argues that the refusal to enforce such contracts contributes to a differential treatment of two types of families: those deemed “intact”—typically consisting of two married parents and their offspring—and those deemed non-intact. Intact families are granted a degree of freedom from government intervention, provided that there is no evidence that children are in any danger of harm. Non-intact families, by contrast, are subject to the perpetual threat of intervention, even in the absence of harm. The result of this two-tier system is that non-intact families are denied the autonomy and stability that intact families enjoy, to the detriment of parents and children alike.

The goal of this Article is to address inconsistent scholarly approaches to custody agreements, on the one hand, and parentage agreements, on the other. Marital agreements about children are largely unenforceable, and even scholars who otherwise favor the enforcement of marital agreements largely approve of this approach, concurring that a court should be able to override a contract concerning children’s custody if it finds that enforcement is not in the children’s best interests. By contrast, those who write about parentage agreements, such as those made in the context of assisted reproductive technology or by unmarried, single, or multiple (i.e., more than two) parents, are more likely to favor the enforcement of such agreements. This Article argues that many of the rationales for enforcing parentage agreements extend to custody agreements as well.

October 2014

No. 1