At the end of a marriage, parents may worry about retaining regular contact and strong relationships with their children. When parents agree on custody-related matters, the court will typically recognize their agreement, and it becomes legally binding. Otherwise, the family court judge holds a hearing to establish custody.

In West Virginia, the state family court determines child custody and visitation based on the best interest of the child.

Shared parenting time

The state designates a primary residential parent who has physical custody at least 50% of the time. However, most custody agreements established shared parenting time so that both parents continue to spend time with their children. The agreement establishes details including the division of parenting time, where drop-off and pick-up occurs, and sharing of weekends, holidays and summer vacations.

Initial hearing

If parents cannot independently agree on custody, the court schedules an initial hearing. At this mandatory date, the judge may order mediation. During this process, a family law attorney certified as a mediator will help parents resolve issues of custody with the goal of reaching an agreement. The judge may also issue a temporary custody order, which parents must follow until the final hearing.

Final hearing

Ideally, successful mediation will result in a custody agreement signed by both parents. At the final hearing, this agreement will become legally binding. When parents do not agree, each must submit his or her own parenting plan at the final hearing.

The judge will rule on custody by considering these plans along with the best interest of the child. He or she strives to keep children’s lives as stable as possible throughout divorce proceedings and beyond.

In addition to physical custody, parents may share legal custody. This term describes the right to have input about the child’s medical care, religious upbringing, education and other important decisions. Parents who do not agree with the judge’s determination can appeal the custody ruling, but may not present new evidence in the case.