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Determining Child Custody

When defining custody of a child, the court will, for all intents and purposes, aim to find a plan that is in the best interest of the child. Child custody arrangements don’t only determine the child’s living situation, but will also consider how the child will be financially and emotionally cared for, and who can provide a stable environment for the child following the divorce or separation. And, if the child is old enough to make a sound decision, the court will also hear the wishes of the child. Child custody can be a tricky process, which is why it is so important to hire a family law attorney to protect your parental rights during custody arrangements.

In West Virginia, courts strongly encourage parents to come up with their own parenting plan for the court to approve or disapprove of. Not only will this make the court process quicker, but, more importantly, it allows the parents to come up with a plan that works for their schedules, and that of their child. Court will consider all options and try to determine what will best suit the child, but it is generally believed parents can come up with a more manageable plan amongst themselves. However, if parents are unable to come to an agreement, court is often the only alternative.

Court will consider a variety of factors before determining a set cookie-cutter plan for each family. The goal of the court is to determine if each parent is fit to care for the child.

This in mind, the court will consider the following before determining custody:

  • Which parent can offer a stable environment for the child
  • The child’s safety, health, and welfare
  • The financial solidity of either parent
  • Who is the child’s primary caregiver (for example, a stay-at-home parent)
  • The relationship the child has with each parent, siblings, and other family members
  • The physical and mental health of either parent
  • The child’s preference, if the child is deemed old enough to decide
  • Any evidence of abuse or domestic violence

West Virginia courts favor shared custody arrangements, where both parents have time with the child, so long as it is considered safe and beneficial for the child. However, depending on how each of the above factors is evaluated by the court, one parent may be granted sole custody of the child, allowing the other parent visitation on weekends, holidays and school breaks. In some instances, especially if domestic violence or abuse has occurred, visitation may be prohibited or only granted under supervised conditions.

The court will, more likely, choose to grant shared custody between parents if both are deemed capable. Under a basic shared parenting arrangement, one parent will have the child overnight for at least 65% of the year, meaning the custody favors one parent. Another option, extended shared parenting, will by much closer to a 50/50 arrangement, where each parent has the child overnight for roughly half of the year. In either situation, both parents are expected to financially contribute to the welfare of the child. This expectation is usually in addition to any court-ordered child support payments.

After the judge has decided on a custody arrangement, each parent is obligated to follow the designated plan unless it is modified. If both parents can agree upon an alternative, or a change, to the court-ordered plan, they may seek to have it legally modified. They may also pursue a modification if situations have drastically changed, such as a job loss, relocation, or anything else that may impact the current custody arrangement.

Child custody arrangements can be complicated and usually vary by family situation, which is why evaluating each case individually is often more helpful. To discuss your case with a child custody attorney, contact Hardy Pence PLLC.