We’re Separating… Do I Need a Parenting Plan in Virginia?
A parenting plan is a written agreement between parents who are divorcing, or maybe have never been married but no longer wish to live together, that outlines the responsibilities and expectations for custody, visitation, financial obligations, and other parenting issues that may be specific to your situation. Though often included as part of a separation agreement, a parenting plan is not a requirement for separation or divorce in Virginia. An experienced Virginia family law attorney can help you put a parenting plan together that is fair, covers the specific needs of both parents and the minor children, resolves problems, and avoids bitter and expensive custody disputes. A parenting plan also allows you to avoid the scenario in which a judge makes decisions for you. If you can work through these issues now, you can avoid time-consuming and costly litigation in the future. It may also help you maintain a better relationship with your children’s other parent. All parenting plans should take into consideration:
- The best interests of the children
- The importance of consistency in your children’s lives in both parents’ homes, and maintaining scheduled activities, like sports, recitals, school activities, and time with friends.
- Keeping the lives of your children as normal as possible during a time of fear and change, going forward.
- The continued healthy development of the children.
What is included in a parenting plan?At the very least a parenting should outline the following in as much detail as possible:
- Legal custody – Who has the responsibility to make decisions for your children? This includes major decisions about health care, religion, vaccinations, and education, but also can include other issues like recreation or ear piercing. Legal custody can be joint (both parents have the authority to make decisions) or sole (only one parent has the authority to make decisions.) If a parent has sole custody, the plan should also specify what legal issues the other parent will be advised or consulted about.
- Physical custody – Where is the child’s primary residence? Again, physical custody can be sole or joint.
- Visitation – When and how much time will the child spend with the noncustodial parent? This includes the division of holidays, vacation times, summers, and special events. A parenting plan should include a schedule with calendar dates and times and specific drop off/pick up arrangements. It may also include transportation costs if parents do not live close to each other.
- Changes/delays – How will a parent be notified if there is a change to the visitation schedule? For instance, if your child has a sleep-over at a friend’s house during visitation.
- Financial obligations – Who is responsible for which expenses of raising a child? This includes child support, childcare costs, medical care and health insurance, school tuition, college, music lessons, extra-curricular activity expenses, etc.
- Communication – How will the parents communicate with each other and with their children? How will they resolve conflicts and disputes? This includes detailing how and when new significant others should be introduced into the lives of your children.
- Modifications to the plan – What happens to the parenting plan in case of remarriage, income increases or decreases, or relocation? The parties should include procedures for modifying or reevaluating the plan if/when circumstances change. It is important that the agreement be both durable and flexible so that it can accommodate change when needed.