Parenting Plan Examples in Virginia
During a divorce involving children or a parentage case, child custody and parenting plans can be among the most contentious and complex issues that need to be resolved. Although a parenting plan is not formally required in Virginia, it is highly recommended that parents develop one. Without such a plan, there is a greater likelihood of heated conflicts between the parents in the future; and ultimately, these issues may have to be settled by a court after costly and protracted litigation.
Creating a Parenting Plan
A parenting plan can be developed without the involvement of an attorney, but it is a good idea for each party to have one. An experienced family law attorney will represent their client’s best interests and help ensure that the plan is fair for everyone. Your attorney will also be familiar with the numerous parenting plan options, and they will work closely with you to listen and understand your needs and help develop the plan that best suits those needs.
The first step in creating your parenting plan is to determine which parent will have custody of the child. In Virginia, courts are supposed to consider all potential custody arrangements equally, with no presumption going into a case that one arrangement is better than the other. As such, when parties develop a parenting plan, each side enters the process on equal footing as far as the law is concerned.
There are three general types of child custody arrangements; sole, joint, and shared. Sole custody means that one parent has primary physical and legal custody of the child, this person is referred to as the “custodial parent”, with the parent who does not have custody being referred to as the “noncustodial parent.” In a sole custody situation, the child will live primarily with one of the parents, with the other usually receiving visitation rights. The parent with physical custody will also typically have authority to make decisions on important matters such as school, religious upbringing, medical care, and activities the child can be involved in.
Other possible forms of custody include:
- Joint Legal Custody: In this scenario, the child still resides primarily with one parent, but both parents have authority to make important decisions for the child. A common variation of this plan would have one parent empowered to make decisions in certain areas, while the other parent has authority over other areas. Example: the mother makes school and extra-curricular activity decisions, while the father makes healthcare decisions, and both parents have input on religious upbringing.
- Shared Physical Custody: When there is shared physical custody, the children spend roughly the same amount of time throughout the year residing with each parent. There are many types of parenting plans that can accomplish this (more on that later). With this scenario, the parents typically retain joint legal custody (i.e., decision-making authority) as well.
Important Considerations when Developing a Parenting Plan
Once the appropriate child custody arrangement has been worked out, the parenting plan should include a comprehensive visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent (if the parents do not have shared physical custody). In most cases, the non-custodial parent receives liberal visitation rights. There are some limited cases in which this arrangement is not in the best interests of the child, such as when there is a history of domestic abuse. With these types of cases, the non-custodial parent may only receive supervised visitation, or no visitation rights at all.
Assuming a non-custodial parent receives full visitation rights, there are several factors to consider when creating a visitation schedule that works for everyone:
- The Distance between the Parents: How close the parents live to each other greatly impacts the type of parenting plan that will be developed. For example, if the parents live fairly close to each other, more frequent exchanges may not be as big of an issue. If, on the other hand, the parents live in different cities where they have to travel a significant distance, it might make sense to have less frequent exchanges in which the child spends longer periods of time with each parent.
- Holidays and Special Occasions: Holidays, birthdays, and other important milestones should be worked into the parenting plan and visitation schedule. Each parent should have ample opportunity to share these special moments with their child. Oftentimes, holidays and special occasions are rotated between parents each year. For example, one parent has the child for Thanksgiving in odd years while the other parent has the child (for Thanksgiving) during even years.
- The Age and Needs of the Child: The needs of children change as they get older. For example, an older child may have more commitments and be involved in more activities, which may affect the parenting plan and visitation schedules. There are also unique considerations for special needs children, who tend to require on-site medical assistance and are not always able to travel as freely.
- Flexibility: One of the most important elements of a parenting plan is the understanding that circumstances change over time and the parties need to be flexible. Decide in advance what events may warrant a modification of the plan. For example, a new job that forces one of the parents to relocate out of the area, one of the parents remarrying, one of the parents becoming a caregiver for an aging loved one, etc.
Parenting Plan Examples
As mentioned earlier, parenting plans will vary widely depending on the type of custody arrangement and the visitation rights of the non-custodial parent. Here are some examples of parenting plans for various situations:
50/50 (Shared Physical Custody)
- Alternating Weeks: Each parent has the child for a week at a time. Exchanges could be made on Saturdays, Sundays, or whatever day works best.
- Two Weeks Each: Each parent has the child for two consecutive weeks at a time.
- 3-4-4-3: One parent has the child for three days of the week and the other for four days. The following week, the first parent has the child for four days and the other for three days.
- 2-2-3: The child resides with Parent A for two days, Parent B for two days, then back to Parent A for three days. The next week, the order is reversed.
- 2-2-5-5: The child resides with Parent A for two days, Parent B for two days, Parent A for five days, and Parent B for five days.
- 4-3: The child resides with the custodial parent for four days of the week and the non-custodial parent for three.
- Extended Weekend: This is similar to the 4-3 schedule and has the child spend weekdays with the custodial parent and a long weekend with the non-custodial parent. Example: The child goes with the non-custodial parent on Fridays at 3:00PM and returns to the custodial parent Mondays at 9:00AM. Or, the non-custodial parent drops the child off at school Monday morning and the custodial parent picks the child up.
70/30 or 80/20
If the time is divided 70/30 or 80/20 between the custodial and non-custodial parent, schedules can be worked out to accommodate this arrangement, such as:
- 5-2 between the custodial and non-custodial parent;
- Every weekend or every other weekend with the non-custodial parent;
- Every third day, every third week, or every third weekend with the non-custodial parent.
Speak with a Skilled and Compassionate Virginia Family Law Attorney
Having a parenting plan is an important part of a comprehensive child custody and visitation arrangement. Developing a plan that is fair and works for everyone requires a lot of thought and consideration, and a willingness on the part of the parents to work together. Having a good plan will go a long way toward avoiding heated disputes and potential legal battles down the road. At the law offices of Olmstead & Olmstead, P.C., we have extensive experience representing clients for all types of family legal matters in Virginia. We understand that there are numerous factors that must be taken into account when a parenting plan is decided on, and our goal is to develop workable arrangements that are in-keeping with the best interests of our clients. For a consultation with one of our attorneys, call our office today at 703-361-1555, or send us a message through our online contact form.