What is a parenting plan in Virginia?

 

I was on Instagram the other day, as I so often am, and came across a little meme that said “Your ex doesn’t make the rules; your parenting plan does.”

I mean, it’s cute. It’s meant to be empowering, too, which I can appreciate. But, as a lawyer, it confused me a little bit.

“Well, where does the parenting plan come from?” I wanted to ask.

Because, really, a parenting plan comes from one of two places: an agreement between the parties, or an order from the court. In the vast majority of cases, the coparents themselves reach their parenting plan together, by agreement.

So, in a way, he DOES make the parenting plan. But, then again, so do (or should) you.

A parenting plan is, in a nutshell, a contract between two parents that specifies EXACTLY how the parenting responsibilities will be shared between the two of them. It details physical and legal custody, the holiday arrangement, child support, and any extra provisions to which the two of you agree or the judge deems necessary.

It can be as specific or as general as you like, but – as a general recommendation – more specific is better than less specific, because then the two of you can move forward with clear expectations (and little to no room for griping if something unusual happens).

If you specify, for example, how you’ll share father’s day and mother’s day and the children’s birthdays, you’ll be a step ahead. If you dictate what happens in the event that someone’s extra week (like a Spring Break week or a vacation week) interrupts the regular parenting schedule, you’ll be a step ahead, too. There won’t be a million calls to the lawyer to ask what the agreement was supposed to say or whether this exact scenario was contemplated – the agreement should say, explicitly, what happens in every possible case.

How will you share travel, if you don’t live nearby? Where will visitation exchanges take place? Are the children’s extracurricular activities, like summer camps, going to be shared between the parties outside of regular child support? How will the parties communicate? What about a right of first refusal? Overnights with romantic partners? Drinking while the children are present?

To some extent, coparenting means relinquishing control. It is pretty well accepted that, within certain parameters, each parent is allowed to parent according to his or her personal style on their own parenting time. We don’t dictate exactly how each coparent will spend his or her time with the child; we allow each to find a way that works for them.

But, to the extent that we can, we try to normalize things between the two households so that there are few, if any, questions about what will happen if certain things pop up.

He doesn’t make the parenting plan in isolation, but the best parenting plans are the ones that two coparents work together to create. At the very least, even if your relationship with your child’s father is hostile, you should participate in the process and have input into the agreement. You’ll have more opportunity for customization if you reach an agreement rather than let the judge do it for you, so you definitely have some incentive to collaborate, at least a little.

HE doesn’t make the parenting plan alone; you need to get informed, talk to your lawyer about your specific concerns, and participate.

A parenting plan, like a separation agreement or a prenuptial agreement or any other negotiated contract, gives you the opportunity to weigh in, ask questions, and craft an agreement that suits your needs. Ultimately, you and your child’s father know your family better than any judge, so you’re in the best possible position to come up with an agreement that reflects your children and their needs.

Then, once your parenting plan is in place, you can say things like “As per our parenting plan,” or “In Section 2, paragraph 3, the parenting plan states..” to your heart’s content.

But, then again, maybe what the meme was saying (or am I reading too much into a meme? So sorry, can’t help myself) is that he can’t just adjust specific circumstances to suit himself. Once the parenting plan is finalized, it’s followed – unless and until there’s a new court order or a new agreement entered by the parties.

Though you’ll likely have certain specific scenarios in your mind when you negotiate your agreement, inevitably something will come up that one or the other of you didn’t anticipate when you were drafting the agreement. These are the situations when you just have to relax, re read your agreement, and then follow it.
Sure, he may be mad – even incandescent with rage – when his carefully laid plans don’t come to fruition exactly like he imagined, but that’s exactly what the parenting plan is designed to do. It sets certain specific standards, and then the parents just have to follow it. So, don’t let him come at you threatening to take the case back to court or to raise a million old issues, just keep calm and refer back to your parenting plan.

For more information, or to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.

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