The future of your child must be the highest priority when you and your spouse are pursuing a divorce. It is, of course, paramount that minor children are well cared for by the parent or parents who can best provide for them. A parenting plan, also known as a custody/visitation agreement, will help you ensure that the children are prioritized first.
A parenting plan specifies you and your spouse’s parenting responsibilities, including a visitation schedule, child-related expenses, and ways to resolve parental disputes. Though a parenting plan is not formally required in Virginia, this document is important in laying down an ideal arrangement for your children after the divorce, and can also minimize disputes and legal expenses later on. For a well-thought-out custody agreement, consider these four crucial factors:
- Your Child’s Age
A child’s needs will significantly change as he or she grows. Consider the physical, social, emotional, and academic needs of your child now as well as in the coming years. For instance, child-related expenses will likely increase as the child moves from pre-school to grade school to high school. Parenting schedules might have to change as well, as frequent moving between parents’ homes may be more suited for older children than for toddlers. Because children and their needs change, it is important to note that a parenting plan is never “final”; it can always be revisited where circumstances change, as long as the children are minors.
- Distance Between You And Your Spouse
The physical distance between your houses affects multiple aspects of child-rearing. For one, transportation expenses and schedules can be a major factor. If you and your spouse are living far away from each other, you will have to agree on the most practical visitation schedule and costs, as well as who will be responsible for travel arrangements.
In addition, moving from one parent’s house to the other – and back again – can be strenuous for a child. It can also take a toll on his or her schooling, extra-curricular activities, and social life. Wise parents must factor these priorities in when deciding on the parenting plan.
- Holidays And Special Occasions
For any good parent, it’s painful to be away from their children during holidays, birthdays, and other important life milestones. A parent’s presence at these events is also important in developing a child’s self-esteem. For these reasons, it’s essential that your parenting plan includes a thoughtful distribution of holidays and special occasions with your minor children.
Of course, this distribution must be equitable – that is, it must be fair between the parents. Many parents decide to alternate spending major holidays with their child. This “fair” division of time, however, is actually a secondary consideration. The most important factor is what is in the best interest of the child. This might not be an exactly equal division of time under some circumstances. The parent who fights for his or her equal share of the time might not be the wisest, and a court might not agree with that parent. Aside from the division of special events, you’ll also want to agree with your spouse on certain dos and don’ts for the child’s holidays. Consider your child’s travels, activities, companions, special health needs, and the like. It is most likely that the more consistent the two homes, the better adjusted the minor child or children will be.
- Flexibility Of The Plan
One of the most important aspects of a custody agreement is room for change. In your plan, include provisions for making amendments or modifications. Decide on what events may allow either parent to have the plan modified – a change in address, new job arrangements, a new partner, and so on. Decide also on a process to make any modification – you’ll want to ensure that both parents are aware and in agreement before a change is made.
The bottom line for your parenting plan should always be what is in the best interest of your child. As parents, you and your spouse should be able to agree on a plan, and if you need assistance, we at Holcomb Law are happy to provide legal guidance. Just give us a call at 757-656-1000 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.