If you know you and your spouse are seriously considering divorce, you’ve probably considered having to share your children as well. This can be especially difficult if you’re like a lot of parents who don’t want to only see their children in specified amounts of time. You may be thinking that a court-ordered custody schedule will be too overwhelming for you and your children, and that it may be possible that you and your ex can work it out with some time and good honest effort.

However, this isn’t always the case and is much more often the exception.

Never assume you’ll be able to make it work. Sometimes, if you and your ex separate on decent terms, you can make it work. However, nothing guarantees that that arrangement will work long-term. If something dramatic goes down between you and your ex, then the “agreement” you had will not hold up in court. So, if he or she decides to keep the children from you, he or she can without a court order.

Having a legally binding custody agreement is one of the strongest protections you can have. No one wants to put any sort of negative label on parenting, and no one wants to make it cold and calculated like a custody agreement makes it feel. After all, it does feel very confining, especially when you’d like to spend more time with your children then you think you’ll get. However, while it is restrictive, it’s also very important. Not only is it important for the structure and development of your child’s life, it’s also very important because if something bad happens, you can simply take your ex to court and modify the agreement instead of having to fight over what really happened. If everyone obeyed the agreement, you can speak on equal terms. If one party did not, then the court can decide on how to deal with that.

Visitation is completely modifiable. Your children change and as they do, their needs will change. Maybe your son will need to spend more time with his father to clear up his teenage confusion, and maybe your daughter will need her mother more when she starts to like boys. The court understands this, and you can go back to the judge at almost any time to change your agreement. If things become rocky between you and your ex, you can always lean on the terms of your agreement to ensure your children are getting their needs properly met.

In short, keeping up an active custody agreement covers your side in court. If you don’t have one and things get tough between you and your ex-spouse, you have absolutely no way to prove to the court you have both been doing your part, which will negatively affect you, your children, and your bank account while the court sorts out the issues. A legally binding contract may seem a little constrictive, but in the long run it’ll only help you, your children, and your ex live more at peace.