What is a Virginia Parenting Plan?
A Virginia parenting plan is a document that helps divorcing parents understand their future child related responsibilities. A Virginia parenting plan sets forth a visitation schedule, determines how the parents plan to divide future child related expenses, and helps divorcing parents avoid future conflict.
A Virginia parenting plan can be included in a property settlement agreement, custody agreement, or can be a separate document. By creating a comprehensive parenting plan, parents have the ability to better understand their parental responsibilities after the completion of divorce.
Is a Parenting Plan Required in Virginia?
A formal parenting plan is not required under Virginia law. That being said, without a parenting plan sensitive issues, such as custody and visitation, may have to be settled in future litigation by a judge.
While a parenting plan is not required under Virginia law, the benefits of a comprehensive parenting plan have the ability to save divorcing parents time, money, and prevent future disputes.
What are the Benefits of a Virginia Parenting Plan?
Creating a Virginia parenting plan has many benefits. A Virginia parenting plan provides both parents a clear understanding of their rights and obligations towards their child after the divorce. This allows parents to avoid future conflicts about responsibilities toward their children.
Without a Virginia parenting plan, visitation and custody may have to be decided in future litigation. This means that a judge will likely make the decisions regarding custody and visitation.
A Virginia parenting plan is more specific to the client and tailored to your individual needs. By creating a Virginia parenting plan, you and your spouse have the ability to set a visitation schedule that meets you and your spouse’s needs.
How Do I Create A Virginia Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan can be created without the help of an attorney, but hiring an experienced attorney is recommended to represent your best interests. Because of the flexibility of a Virginia parenting plan, couples have many options for what to include in the document.
A good parenting plan includes a comprehensive visitation schedule, how the couple plans on dividing future child related expenses, and any other provisions necessary to deter future conflict between the divorcing couple.
Determining Child Custody
The first step in creating a Virginia parenting plan is determining child custody. While Virginia recognizes several types of custody, it is important to determine which parent will be the custodial parent and which parent will be the non-custodial parent.
What is a Custodial Parent?
The custodial parent is granted physical and legal custody of the child.  If you are named the custodial parent then you will have the primary custody over your child.  The child generally lives with the custodial parent.
What is a Non-custodial Parent?
The non-custodial parent is not granted physical or legal custody over the child.  The non-custodial parent generally does not have the primary responsibility of child care or decision making over your child.
The child generally does not live full-time with the non-custodial parent. However, the non-custodial parent likely still has visitation rights.
A Fair Parenting Plan Includes a Comprehensive Visitation Schedule
Once you and your spouse have determined which parent will be the custodial and non-custodial parent, visitation must be determined. One of the primary purposes of a Virginia parenting plan is to set out a visitation schedule.
Visitation is the non-custodial parent’s right to be a part of their child’s life. Visitation is the right of the non-custodial parent to spend time with their child. 
The schedule of visitation, when the non-custodial parent can spend time with their child, should be an essential part of your parenting plan. A visitation schedule includes when the parent can spend time with their child including but not limited to holidays, weekends, and summer vacations. 
Virginia courts favor a fair visitation schedule that will allow both parents to be involved in the lives of their children.
What should be Included in my Visitation Schedule?
The primary purpose of a visitation schedule is to determine when the non-custodial parent will get to see their child. A parenting plan is based on the individual needs of both parties.
The visitation schedule of a parenting plan lays out how often the non-custodial parent will see the child, what days of the week, how many times a month, etc. The visitation schedule will also include how and where the child will be picked up or dropped off after visiting the non-custodial parent.
When creating a visitation schedule for your Virginia parenting plan, how you and your spouse plan to schedule parenting time on both holidays and summer vacation should be addressed.
Determining parenting time on holidays can be a sensitive issue because one of the most difficult aspects of divorce can be not seeing your child on the holidays. The visitation schedule of a Virginia parenting plan handles this issue.
A Virginia parenting plan ensures an equitable distribution of your child’s time on the holidays. The visitation schedule will allow the parents to determine where the child will stay on all of the major holidays.
Many parents choose to alternate major holidays. For example, a fair visitation schedule may include a provision saying that the child spends Christmas Eve with his mother and Christmas Day with his father.
Finally, a comprehensive parenting plan will include how the parents choose to divide time on their child’s birthday.
Since children are off for nearly three months during the summer, it is important to discuss how that affects the visitation schedule of the parenting plan. In some instances, the child will spend extended time during the summer with the non-custodial parent.
For example a fair visitation schedule may ensure that the non-custodial parent sees his child for a week or two uninterrupted during the child’s summer vacation.
Can Child related Expenses be Included in a Parenting Plan?
A Virginia parenting plan can also be a helpful way of determining how divorced parents will divide child related expenses. A comprehensive parenting plan can include how parents plan to divide future medical, travel, and education expenses.
A child’s education is very important and can be expensive. A parenting plan will lay out how parents will divide future expenses such college tuition, private schools, and your child’s extracurricular activities.
Finally, if a parent lives out of state or far away from the custodial parent, it may be helpful to include provisions on how to handle the child’s travel expenses.
Can Child Support be Addressed in a Virginia Parenting Plan?
While child support is likely to be addressed in the separation agreement, it can be beneficial to include child support information in the parenting plan. It is important to remember that spouses cannot waive child support in their parenting plan. The child support amount is governed by Virginia statutory guidelines. 
Children with Special Needs
If you have any children with special needs such as a handicap or learning disability, this should be addressed in the parenting plan. You and your spouse should indicate how you plan to make future decisions regarding the child’s medical needs and handle future expenses as a result.
Can a Virginia Parenting Plan regulate Parental Behavior?
Because of the flexibility of parenting plans, divorcing parents can include provisions regarding conduct of the parents while in the presence of the child. The divorcing couple can include provisions about how to handle future disputes.
The parenting plan can even include provisions to protect your children from the heartaches of divorce. For example you could include a provision indicating that you and your former spouse will not argue in front of your child. Additionally, you could include a provision saying that neither you or your spouse can speak negatively about the other parent in front of your child.
How Will a Court Evaluate my Virginia Parenting Plan?
Virginia courts tend to prefer both parents playing an active role in the child’s development. Courts will look favorably on a Virginia parenting plan that includes a fair visitation schedule that allows maximum contact with both parents.
This leads to the court allowing the divorcing parents to have a lot of flexibility when creating a parenting plan. While the court is flexible in regards to the visitation schedule, the court will always take into account the best interests of the child when evaluating a parenting plan. 
How does the Court Evaluate the Best Interests of the Child?
When the court is determining custody or evaluating a visitation schedule, a judge will evaluate what is in the best interests of the child. The court will consider the following factors when determining the child’s best interests:
- The age and physical and mental condition of the child, with consideration given to the child’s developmental needs;
- The age and physical and mental condition of the parent;
- The relationship existing between each parent and child, with consideration given to the positive involvement in the child’s life, the ability to accurately assess and meet the emotional, intellectual, and physical needs of the child;
- The needs of the child, giving consideration to other important relationships of the child such as siblings, peers, and extended family members;
- The role the parent has played and will play in the future, in the upbringing and care of the child;
- The propensity of each parent to actively support the child’s contact and relationship with the other parent, including whether a parent has unreasonably denied the other parent access to or visitation with the child;
- The relative willingness and demonstrated ability of each parent to maintain a close and continuing relationship with the child, and the ability of each parent to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child;
- The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age and experience to express such a preference;
- Any history of family or sexual abuse;
- Such other factors as the court deems necessary and proper to the determination. 
Can a Virginia Parenting Plan be Modified or Amended?
A Virginia parenting plan can be modified upon the consent of both parties. In the event of changing circumstances a parenting plan can be amended. For example if one the parents decides to move, the parenting plan can be amended to accommodate the moving parent.
While not required under Virginia law, a comprehensive parenting plan has the ability to save divorcing couples time, money, and the headaches of traditional divorce. A comprehensive Virginia parenting plan has the ability to eliminate future conflict between divorced spouses.
A good Virginia parenting plan contains custody and visitation arrangements acceptable to both parents. Virginia courts look favorably on a parenting plan that allows both parents to maintain an active role in the lives of their children.
While a Virginia parenting plan can be prepared without an attorney, hiring an experienced and competent attorney is recommended. Ultimately, having an experienced attorney by your side can best serve to protect the things most important to you.