Co-Parenting and Child Custody Schedules
When you are going through a divorce or separation, it can be extremely challenging to make decisions about your children. Heated disputes can arise with the other parent about where the children will live and the amount of participation that each parent will have in their lives.
At Mani, Ellis & Layne, PLLC, our Charleston child custody lawyers understand what is at stake in these situations. We realize how the quality and quantity of time spent with your children can impact their development and your relationship with them.
The following is important information about how West Virginia courts view and decide issues pertaining to primary custody and joint custody schedules as well as what you can do to have your child custody agreement changed if it is necessary.
The Importance of Co-Parenting Plans For Your Child
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has conducted extensive research on the specific qualities and circumstances that influence children's health and development. While remaining in situations in which parental fights and disagreements are a regular occurrence has been shown to have detrimental effects on children, it is generally in a child's best interests to have close, nurturing relationships with both parents if at all possible, the NIH has found.
Changes in how the West Virginia family court system views and handles child custody and child support agreements reflect this attitude. Today, our courts strive to promote situations in which joint legal custody is possible.
While the best interests of the child remain the primary concern, a court will seek to assist parents in allocating parental responsibility and developing co-parenting plans that:
- Maintain the continuity of established parent-child relationships
- Allow for adequate time and meaningful contact between each parent and child
- Nurture caretaking roles on the part of both parents
- Allow for quick, easy decision-making and avoid long, drawn out debates between parents.
Developing A Parenting Plan After Your Divorce
Mediation is a process that is often used to arrive at a parenting plan during a divorce. In mediation, both sides are represented by an attorney. A neutral mediator works with both sides to get them to come to an agreement.
Once an agreement is reached, the plan still requires the court's approval.
A parenting plan should address the following items:
- Physical custody - A plan could allow for the child to live at one parent's home, or primary custody, or it could create a situation in which the child spends an equal amount of time at both parents' home, or joint custody.
- Visitation - If one parent is the primary custodian of the child, the other parent should be entitled to regular, consistent visitation with the child, including weekdays, overnight weekend visits and holidays.
- Legal custody - Having legal custody means assuming the responsibility for making decisions in the interests of the child such as deciding on schools, religious upbringing and appropriate health care. While this decision-making authority often was previously given to one specific parent, courts today now seek to allocate legal rights to both parents so that they can be actively involved in making decisions that impact the child's life.
In the event an agreement cannot be reached through mediation and negotiations, a court has the authority to allocate these responsibilities. The court will take into consideration:
- The wishes of the parents
- Each parent's ability to act in the child's best interests
- Any past arrangements or agreements.
Issues to Address in Your Parenting Plan
The West Virginia Family Court parenting plan is a legal document submitted to the court by your attorney. It indicates the name of the petitioner, which is the person on whose behalf the plan is being filed, as well as the name of the respondent, which is the other party named in the proceedings.
Some of the items which should be included within the parenting plan include:
- The names and ages of any children subject to the plan
- Any restrictions that are placed on either parent based on conduct such as domestic violence, alcohol or drug abuse and child neglect
- If one party has primary custody of the child, the dates and times of visitation for the non-custodial parent
- Details as to the arrangements for transfer of the child between one parent and the other
- Allocation of decision-making responsibilities
- Details regarding the rights of each party to other forms of communication such as telephone calls and e-mails (when the child is not in the parent's custody)
- A calendar detailing a joint custody schedule for summer breaks, holidays, weekends and other significant times of the year such as birthdays.
Also included in the parenting plan should be a section regarding changes in arrangements. It should allow parents to decide in advance how they wish to handle requests for non-emergency changes such as wanting to attend a school event or take a vacation that is not during a scheduled visitation.
You can specify the deadline for being notified of any potential changes, how you wish to be notified and other circumstances that will need to be met such as paying for any additional costs incurred.
Modifying an Existing Parenting Plan in West Virginia
While parents can often work together to slightly alter their parenting plans, there are other circumstances in which your parenting plan may need to be formally changed by the court.
Your attorney can assist you in filing a parenting plan modification with the family court. The attorney may point to changes in circumstances such as a change in employment status or hours or a job-related relocation.
You should note that, under West Virginia law, parents who relocate are required to notify the court about when they will be moving and the location of the move. They must also provide a proposal on how the existing parenting plan should be modified.
Our Charleston Child Custody Attorneys Can Help You
If you are going through a divorce and dealing with child custody issues, contact Mani Ellis & Layne, PLLC. Our experienced Charleston family law attorneys understand how important it is for you to maintain a healthy relationship with your children.
We provide compassionate, professional legal representation. We will ensure your rights are protected and seek the best possible result in your case.
We serve the entire West Virginia area, so don't hesitate to call or contact our Charleston office today for a free consultation.