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What is a Parenting Plan and Do I Need One?


If you are getting a divorce, or you are not married to your child’s parent, you may have been told you need to create a parenting plan. A parenting plan is a written agreement between co-parents that outlines expectations and procedures for legal custody, visitation, financial responsibilities, and other parenting issues. In Virginia, a parenting plan is not a requirement for divorcing couples or unmarried parents (although you may be required to complete a Families in Transition course). However, it is recommended that you work out these issues up front to avoid a costly, time consuming, and stressful litigation process down the road. A parenting plan can be a helpful tool for establishing and maintaining a healthy relationship with your child’s other parent.

What is included in a Virginia parenting plan?

A parenting plan may include the following elements:

  • Legal custody: Who has the authority and responsibility to make major decisions for the child? This includes decisions about health care, education, and even smaller issues like haircuts and ear piercing. Legal custody can be sole (only one parent) or joint (both parents have authority to make decisions).
  • Physical custody: Who is primarily responsible for the child’s physical care? Physical custody can also be sole (the child is primarily with one parent) or joint (the child spends equal time with each parent).
  • Visitation: How much time will the child spend with the noncustodial parent? The parenting plan should include a schedule with calendar dates and specific drop off/pick up arrangements.
  • Financial obligations: How much will the noncustodial parent pay in child support? The plan should also detail who is responsible for childcare costs, health insurance, medical care, tuition and other educational expenses, and any other foreseen expenses of raising a child.
  • Personal decisions: A parenting plan can include other important co-parenting issues such as vaccination, religious observance, education decisions, etc.
  • Communication: How will the parties communicate with each other? How will they communicate with the child?
  • Contingencies and Modification: What should happen in case of relocation, remarriage, or substantial income increase/decrease? The parties should include procedures for reevaluating and modifying the parenting plan as circumstances change.

How do I make a parenting plan? What if my ex won’t cooperate?

Parenting plans are often drafted through mediation. Mediation is when an impartial person, usually an attorney, oversees the negotiation process to encourage collaboration. This form of alternative dispute resolution can be very effective, but it is recommended you have the document reviewed by your personal attorney. An experienced child custody lawyer will pick up on potential oversights and ensure your interests are protected.

If the parties reach an agreement, they can file their parenting plan with the Court and, at the judge’s discretion, have it entered as part of a court order. If the parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, they can each submit their own proposed plan to the judge. The Court will make a decision on each challenged element of the parenting plan, as well as any other issues it determines are in the best interest of the child.

Leesburg, VA Child Custody Attorneys

If you are considering divorce or separating from your child’s parent, speak with a child custody lawyer right away. Contact the experienced family law attorneys at Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC to protect your parenting rights.



Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC

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Leesburg, Virginia 20175

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Whitbeck Cisneros McElroy PC is located in Leesburg, VA and serves clients in and around Ashburn, Paeonian Springs, Hamilton, Sterling, Lincoln, Waterford, Leesburg, Purcellville, Lovettsville, Middleburg, Philomont, Round Hill, Arcola, Aldie, Dulles, Bluemont, Herndon, Haymarket, Reston, Great Falls, Clarke County, Fairfax County, Fairfax City County, Fauquier County, Loudoun County, Prince William County, Frederick County, Warren County, Winchester County, Arlington County.

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