When making decisions about child custody and visitation orders in a divorce or separation, the primary goal of the West Virginia courts is to ensure the orders benefit the child's best interests. This means the court will look at all the circumstances related to the child and each parent before making a custody decision. Courts want to ensure that the child's life remains as stable as possible when parents separate, and that both parents will still have a positive relationship with the child. Using the best interests of the child standard, the judge will consider factors such as the current relationship between the child and each parent, the emotional stability provided by each parent, whether one parent has a better ability to care for the child, and the child's and each parent's mental and physical health.
The judge may decide to award joint custody to both parents or sole custody to one parent, depending on whether both parents can provide for the child's mental, physical, and emotional needs. If the judge orders sole custody to one parent, the other parent will likely have visitation on the weekends, holidays, and during school breaks. However, if the court suspects that one parent is abusing drugs or alcohol, or that the child will not be in a safe environment, the court may order limited, supervised, or no visitation for that parent.
West Virginia courts encourage parents to work together to agree on a custody and visitation schedule before asking the judge to make an order. The court is more likely to accept a proposed parenting plan if it shows that the child will have significant contact with both parents, if it provides a method for resolving parenting disputes, and if it accounts for the child's school, religious, and extracurricular activities. Parents should decide which parent the child will be with during the school week, on weekends, and holidays. Examples of visitation schedules include alternate weekends and midweek visits with the noncustodial parent, alternating weeks with each parent, or spending the first part of the week with one parent and the second part with the other parent.
Setting out a holiday visitation schedule is also important for the child's stability so the child will know what to expect from week to week and month to month. For example, the child may be with one parent on Halloween and Christmas in odd years, and with the other parent on Halloween and Christmas in even years. Whatever the parents decide, it should represent what it in the best interests of their child--if it does, the court will approve the parents' plan and make it the court's order.
If the parents want to change the parenting schedule, they can do so by mutual agreement or if circumstances have changed significantly.