Or can we settle custody and such on our own? Will I spend the rest of my kids childhood worried about him taking me to court?
Do we *have* to go to court?
No, you don't have to go to court. In my state, once you file and before it ever gets to court, you have to go to mediation. If you both agree in mediation to a custody schedule, it wil be sent to the judge to be signed and then filed with the court to make it official. You would only go to court if you can't agree. I don't know how it works in other states, so you'd have to call a lawyer or do some research in the law library.
I would definitely recommend getting the agreement filed with the court though-i.e., I would not go with a verbal or even written and notarized agreement only. Even if you agree now, either of you could change your minds later and you'd end up going through the court process after all. It will be easier just to do it and make it official now, especially if you agree.
He can take you to court even after you get an official agreement, but he would generally need to prove a significant change in circumstances to get the agreement modified.
I'm just getting started on this process separating from my kids' dad, but I have been through a lot of the legal stuff with him for his oldest daughter, my stepdaughter.
I filed divorce. In my state you can submit an agreement before ever reaching a court date if you want to. You just submit your agreement and have the judge assigned to your case sign off on it and it gets recorded as your divorce settlement. In my state you still have to file whether you go through the courts or not.
You can also submit on the initial filing the divorce agreement and serve it. If the other party doesn't respond by a certain date, you are divorced and that is your agreement. That happened to a friend's mom. The got it, never opened it, and the next thing she knew the dad had taken everything from the mom because she didn't respond.
The only thing my state requires is that custody starts with mediation but they don't mandate it for property division.
^ What she said.
My ex and I settled things between us and submitted it to the lawyers to write up for our order. We didn't have to negotiate in court or let the judge decide. We are/were amicable so we just made all the decisions ourselves and had it written up. To be honest, I don't think either one of us want to leave decisions regarding the children we know and love up to a man/woman who has never met them before and doesn't know anything about them.
Thanks ladies, I'm not sure it will come to this. We are "trying to work it out" until we get our tax return next year (to pay off debt). If we are still unhappy we will be separating which will probably lead to divorce at some point. It's not even emotional at this point, just cut and dry.