West Virginia law encourages parents to work out custody arrangements themselves before bringing the issue to court. If they cannot come to an agreement, courts make custody decisions based on what is in the "best interest" of the child.
What Is a Parenting Plan?
Typically, parents must also attend a parent education course before their divorce is approved. These courses focus on how divorce and custody disputes impact a child’s mental and emotional health. A modest fee is charged for parent education, unless the parents can show financial need.
What Does the Court Consider in Assigning Custody?
West Virginia courts balance a series of factors when determining the best interest of a child. These factors include:
- The child’s need for stability,
- The child’s health, safety, and welfare,
- Who has been the child’s primary caregiver,
- The physical and mental health of the parents,
- Evidence of child abuse or spousal abuse,
- The child’s reasonable preference (if age appropriate), and
- The parents’ wishes.
A parent’s gender is not considered as a factor. In a custody dispute, a guardian ad litem may be assigned to advocate for the child and help assess his or her best interests.
What Happens When the Court Has Made a Decision?
Once the parenting plan and divorce order are approved, they are filed with the court clerk. Both parents are then bound by the approved custody order and the court must approve any modification of the plan.