Separation or divorce can be a stressful time for a family, as a family law lawyer can attest. When a child is involved, a very important decision must be made: your child custody arrangement. The best child custody arrangement for the child may depend on the child’s schedule with school or extracurricular activities, the parent’s schedule, and where each parent ends up being located after the separation or divorce. Child custody arrangements can be completely customizable to the family’s situation. Most parents aim for a 50/50 custody schedule. This type of schedule could include alternating weeks with the children, alternating two weeks, the 3-4-4-3 schedule in which the child spends 3 days with one parent, 4 days with the other parent, 4 days with the first parent, and three days with the other parent, alternating every 2 days, and many other options. When choosing a schedule, consider factors such as how close each parent lives to each other to make exchanges simpler, being able to effectively communicate about the child, and most importantly: switching homes does not negatively affect the child’s school or other activity schedule. The child’s life should not be negatively impacted by the arrangement chosen. Holiday schedules and summer break schedules are also important when creating a child custody arrangement. Most parents alternate major holidays each year and then designate Mother’s Day to the mother each year and Father’s Day to the father. Summer break may largely affect the child custody arrangement due to family vacations or trips the child takes alone such as camps, vacations with friends, etc. The child custody arrangement chosen may also affect child support. In West Virginia, a formula is used to determine who is awarded child support and the amount that is awarded based on the number of overnight stays the child spends with each parent and the income of each parent.
As the child ages, listen to what they prefer their schedule for visitation be and be open minded to reviewing the arrangement. As the child ages and becomes more involved in activities the schedule may need to be altered to accommodate the child’s needs. This does not mean that the time between the parents be changed, such as straying from a 50/50 arrangement, but solely the schedule for which the parent receives their time be altered. Remember to be realistic about what kind of schedule you can commit to. Every parent wants to see their child as much as possible, but if work and child care arrangements make it difficult to commit to a certain schedule, do not make that schedule your custody arrangement. Remove your emotions and any possible negative feelings toward the other parents and focus on what will work best for the child and their needs.
In West Virginia, a child cannot legally choose which parent they would like to primarily live with until they reach the age of Eighteen; however, once the child reaches the age of fourteen, however, the judge will give a strong presumption in favor of the child’s wishes and thus take into consideration the preference of the child. It is likely that the judge will grant the child what they prefer once they reach the age of fourteen but the judge will hold the right to override the child’s wishes if he or she feels necessary until the child reaches the age of eighteen.
Can and Should You Fight the Custody Wishes of Your Child?
While the wishes of a child over the age of fourteen are given deference, the Court can certainly rule against the child’s desires. This can occur, when it can be demonstrated that some other arrangement is in “the best interest of the child,” which is the golden standard by which the Court decides custody matters. Further, the wishes of the child, in order to be given appropriate weight, must be firm and reasonable. You can request the court to conduct an in-camera (in chambers by judge only) interview of the child to determine if the child’s wishes are firm and reasonable. You can even submit suggested areas of inquiry relative to the matter. If the child’s preferences are not “reasonable” or based on some material concerns (i.e. lack of discipline, bigger home, lack of responsibility, etc.), then you may be able to override the child’s wishes. The question still remains though, as to whether you should, when such parenting time obtained by force and against the child’s will can breed resentment and discord for many years to come.