When you are a parent facing divorce, one of your biggest concerns likely will be how this will impact your children. When you and your spouse work through a custody agreement, you can create a parenting plan. This can help you and your children in one very beneficial way post-divorce: to reduce conflict.

A good parenting plan acts as a guide to how you and your soon-to-be former spouse will co-parent your children. Creating one isn’t required in Virginia, but having a parenting plan will help you in the long run. You can include an agreement as to how you and your spouse will handle future disagreements about your children, or even how and when you will tell them if you’ve entered a new romantic relationship.

Before you get that detailed, though, you need to work through some of the basics of a good parenting plan. These include the following five essentials:

  1. Setting a parenting schedule.
    This will be the schedule as to when your children will be with you and when they will be with your spouse. It will also include any requirements regarding dropping the children off. You may decide meeting at a predetermined location is best.
  2. Establishing a holiday and special occasion plan.
    You and your soon-to-be ex will need to compromise on who is spending Christmas with the kids this year or if one of you will have them on Christmas Eve and the other on Christmas. Also, include a rotation for these holidays and Thanksgiving, New Year’s, Fourth of July or for their birthday, perhaps switching off which holidays you’ll have the children each year.
  3. Deciding how schedule changes will be handled.
    If you want 48 hours of notice, or more, about schedule changes, you can include that. You can also agree on how you’ll communicate about schedule changes. Many divorced parents limit communication to text only, to avoid emotions getting heated and leading to conflict.
  4. Deciding how future travel or vacations will be planned.
    Will each parent get a week or more for a vacation each year? How far ahead of time does the other parent need to know? What if travel includes going out of the country or traveling alone on a plane? All these questions should be addressed in a parenting plan.
  5. Establishing how decisions about health care, discipline, education and even religion will be handled.
    The court may set this out for you in your divorce settlement, but having it referenced in your parenting plan can be beneficial for future reference.

You also may want to agree on how often you will revisit your parenting plan, whether it’s every six months or every year. Also, what you decide is best for your children will change as they get older and you may want to address different topics (such as your child’s social media use) as they grow older. It’s always good to keep in mind that your parenting plan ultimately needs to be a bit flexible for when life changes.