West Virginia Code
(a) This article sets forth principles governing the allocation of custodial and decision-making responsibility for a minor child when the parents do not live together.
(b) The Legislature finds and declares that it is the public policy of this state to assure that the best interest of children is the court's primary concern in allocating custodial and decision-making responsibilities between parents who do not live together. In furtherance of this policy, the Legislature declares that a child's best interest will be served by assuring that minor children have frequent and continuing contact with parents who have shown the ability to act in the best interest of their children, to educate parents on their rights and responsibilities and the effect their separation may have on children, to encourage mediation of disputes, and to encourage parents to share in the rights and responsibilities of rearing their children after the parents have separated or divorced.
(a) The primary objective of this article is to serve the child’s best interests by facilitating:
(1) Stability of the child;
(2) Collaborative parental planning and agreement about the child’s custodial arrangements and upbringing;
(3) Continuity of existing parent-child attachments;
(4) Meaningful contact between a child and each parent, and which is rebuttably presumed to be equal (50-50) custodial allocation of the child;
(5) Caretaking and parenting relationships by adults who love the child, know how to provide for the child’s needs, and who place a high priority on doing so;
(6) Security from exposure to physical or emotional harm;
(7) Expeditious, predictable decisionmaking and avoidance of prolonged uncertainty respecting arrangements for the child’s care and control; and
(8) Meaningful contact between a child and his or her siblings, including half-siblings.
(b) A secondary objective of this article is to achieve fairness between the parents consistent with the rebuttable presumption of equal (50-50) custodial allocation.
There shall be a presumption, rebuttable by a preponderance of the evidence, that equal (50-50) custodial allocation is in the best interest of the child. If the presumption is rebutted, the court shall, absent an agreement between the parents as to all matters related to custodial allocation, construct a parenting time schedule which maximizes the time each parent has with the child and is consistent with ensuring the child’s welfare.
(a) Persons who have a right to be notified of and participate as a party in an action filed by another are:
(1) A legal parent of the child, as defined in section 1-232 of this chapter;
(2) An adult allocated custodial responsibility or decision-making responsibility under a parenting plan regarding the child that is then in effect; or
(3) Persons who were parties to a prior order establishing custody and visitation, or who, under a parenting plan, were allocated custodial responsibility or decision-making responsibility.
(b) In exceptional cases the court may, in its discretion, grant permission to intervene to other persons or public agencies whose participation in the proceedings under this article it determines is likely to serve the child's best interests. The court may place limitations on participation by the intervening party as the court determines to be appropriate. Such persons or public agencies do not have standing to initiate an action under this article.
(a) The family court shall, by order, and with the approval of the Supreme Court of Appeals, designate an organization or agency to establish and operate education programs designed for parents who have filed an action for divorce, paternity, support, separate maintenance or other custody proceeding and who have minor children. The education programs shall be designed to instruct and educate parents about the effects of divorce and custody disputes on their children and to teach parents ways to help their children and minimize their trauma.
(b) The family court shall issue an order requiring parties to an action for divorce involving a minor child or children to attend parent education classes established pursuant to subsection (a) of this section unless the court determines that attendance is not appropriate or necessary based on the conduct or circumstances of the parties. The court may, by order, establish sanctions for failure to attend. The court may also order parties to an action involving paternity, separate maintenance or modification of a divorce decree to attend such classes.
(c) The family court may require that each person attending a parent education class pay a fee, not to exceed $25, to the clerk of the circuit court to defray the cost of materials and of hiring teachers: Provided, That where it is determined that a party is indigent and unable to pay for such classes, the court shall waive the payment of the fee for such party. The clerk of the circuit court shall, on or before the tenth day of each month, transmit all fees collected under this subsection to the state Treasurer for deposit in the state Treasury to the credit of special revenue fund to be known as the "parent education fund" which is hereby created. All moneys collected and received under this subsection and paid into the state Treasury and credited to the parent education fund shall be used by the administrative office of the Supreme Court of Appeals solely for reimbursing the provider of parent education classes for the costs of materials and of providing such classes. Such moneys shall not be treated by the Auditor and treasurer as part of the general revenue of the state.
(d) The administrative office of the Supreme Court of Appeals shall submit a report to the Joint Committee on Government and Finance summarizing the effectiveness of any program of parent education no later than two years from the initiation of the program.
(a) Venue for the initial determination of custodial allocation or child custody determination within a divorce action shall be governed by §48-5-106 or §48-20-101 et seq. of this code, or both.
(b) Venue for the initial determination of custodial allocation or child custody determination as between parties who reside in separate states shall be governed by §48-20-101 et seq. of this code.
(c) Venue for modification of custodial allocation or modification of child custody determination which was previously determined in a tribunal of a state other than West Virginia shall be governed by §48-20-101 et seq. of this code.
(a) If the parents agree to one or more provisions of a parenting plan, the court shall so order, unless it makes specific findings that:
(1) The agreement is not knowing or voluntary; or
(2) The plan would be harmful to the child.
(b) The court, at its discretion and on any basis it deems sufficient, may conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine whether there is a factual basis for a finding under subdivision (1) or (2), subsection (a) of this section. When there is credible information that child abuse as defined by section 49-1-3 of this code or domestic violence as defined by section 27-202 of this code has occurred, a hearing is mandatory and if the court determines that abuse has occurred, appropriate protective measures shall be ordered.
(c) If an agreement, in whole or in part, is not accepted by the court under the standards set forth in subsection (a) of this section, the court shall allow the parents the opportunity to negotiate another agreement.
(a)(1) The court shall inform the parents, or require them to be informed, about:
(A) How to prepare a parenting plan;
(B) The impact of family dissolution on children and how the needs of children facing family dissolution can best be addressed;
(C) The impact of domestic abuse on children and resources for addressing domestic abuse; and
(D) Mediation or other nonjudicial procedures designed to help them achieve an agreement.
(2) The court shall require the parents to attend parent education classes.
(3) If parents are unable to resolve issues and agree to a parenting plan, the court shall require mediation unless application of the procedural rules promulgated pursuant to the provisions of subsection (b) of this section indicates that mediation is inappropriate in the particular case.
(b) The Supreme Court of Appeals shall make and promulgate rules that will provide for premediation screening procedures to determine whether domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, acts or threats of duress or coercion, substance abuse, mental illness or other such elements would adversely affect the safety of a party, the ability of a party to meaningfully participate in the mediation or the capacity of a party to freely and voluntarily consent to any proposed agreement reached as a result of the mediation. Such rules shall authorize a family court judge to consider alternatives to mediation which may aid the parties in establishing a parenting plan. Such rules shall not establish a per se bar to mediation if domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, acts or threats of duress or coercion, substance abuse, mental illness or other such elements exist, but may be the basis for the court, in its discretion, not to order services under subsection (a) of this section or not to require a parent to have face-to-face meetings with the other parent.
(c) A mediator shall not make a recommendation to the court and may not reveal information that either parent has disclosed during mediation under a reasonable expectation of confidentiality, except that a mediator may reveal to the court credible information that he or she has received concerning domestic violence or child abuse.
(d) Mediation services authorized under subsection (a) of this section shall be ordered at an hourly cost that is reasonable in light of the financial circumstances of each parent, assessed on a uniform sliding scale. Where one parent's ability to pay for such services is significantly greater than the other, the court may order that parent to pay some or all of the expenses of the other. State revenues shall not be used to defray the costs for the services of a mediator: Provided, That the Supreme Court of Appeals may use a portion of its budget to pay administrative costs associated with establishing and operating mediation programs: Provided, however, That grants and gifts to the state that may be used to fund mediation are not to be considered as state revenues for purposes of this subsection.
(e) The Supreme Court of Appeals shall establish standards for the qualification and training of mediators.
(a) A parent seeking a temporary order relating to parenting shall file and serve a proposed temporary parenting plan by motion. The other parent, if contesting the proposed temporary parenting plan, shall file and serve a responsive proposed parenting plan. Either parent may move to have a proposed temporary parenting plan entered as part of a temporary order. The parents may enter an agreed temporary parenting plan at any time as part of a temporary order. The proposed temporary parenting plan may be supported by relevant evidence and shall be verified and shall state at a minimum the following:
(1) The name, address, and length of residence with the person or persons with whom the child has lived for the preceding 12 months;
(2) The performance by each parent during the last 12 months of the parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child;
(3) The parents’ current work and child-care schedules; and
(4) Any of the criteria set forth in §48-9-209 of this code that are likely to pose a serious risk to the child or that otherwise warrant limitation on the award to a parent of temporary residence or time with the child pending entry of a permanent parenting plan.
(b) At the hearing, the court shall enter a temporary parenting order incorporating a temporary parenting plan which includes:
(1) A schedule for the child’s time with each parent when appropriate;
(2) Designation of a temporary residence or residences for the child;
(3) Allocation of decision-making authority, if any. Absent allocation of decision-making authority consistent with §48-9-207 of this code, neither party shall make any decision for the child other than those relating to day-to-day or emergency care of the child, which shall be made by the party who is present with the child;
(4) Provisions for temporary support for the child; and
(5) Restraining orders, if applicable.
(c) If the parents have not agreed upon the allocation of physical custody of the child, then the allocation shall be made by the court upon the evidence presented at the hearing unless the parties have agreed to proceed by proffer.
(d) Upon request of either parent for an equal (50-50) allocation of physical custody, the presumption provided in §48-9-102a of this code applies.
(e) If the temporary allocation of physical custody is not on an equal (50-50) basis, it must contain specific findings of fact by the court, based upon evidence presented at a hearing, as to the reasons under §48-9-209 of this code that the court ordered the custodial allocation, along with the court’s legal conclusions supporting its decision.
(f) A parent who has sought and been denied equal (50-50) physical custody, or who has been denied any physical custody, may file an interlocutory appeal with the West Virginia Intermediate Court of Appeals as to the temporary custodial allocation of the child or children, and the Intermediate Court of Appeals shall provide an expedited review of the order: Provided, That no stay shall be granted pending resolution of the appeal, and the filing of an interlocutory appeal shall not be the basis of a continuance of any subsequent or final hearing.
(g) A parent may move for amendment of a temporary parenting plan, and the court may order amendment to the temporary parenting plan, if the amendment conforms to the limitations of and considerations required by §48-9-209 of this code and is in the best interest of the child. The court’s order modifying the plan shall be in writing and contain specific findings of fact upon which the court bases its determinations.
(a) After considering the proposed temporary parenting plan filed pursuant to §48-9-203 of this code and other relevant evidence presented, the court shall make a temporary parenting plan that is in the best interest of the child, which shall be in writing and contain specific findings of fact upon which the court bases its determinations. In making this determination, the court shall give particular consideration to:
(1) Which parent has taken greater responsibility during the last 12 months for performing parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child; and
(2) Which parenting arrangements will cause the least disruption to the child’s emotional stability while the action is pending.
(b) The court shall also consider the factors used to determine residential provisions in the permanent parenting plan.
(c) Upon credible evidence of one or more of the circumstances set forth in §48-9-209(a) of this code, the court shall issue a temporary order limiting or denying access to the child as required by that section, in order to protect the child or the other party, pending adjudication of the underlying facts. The temporary order shall be in writing and include specific findings of fact supporting the court’s determination.
(d) Expedited procedures shall be instituted to facilitate the prompt issuance of a parenting plan.
(e) In establishing a temporary parenting plan, there shall be a presumption in favor of equal (50-50) physical custody which is rebuttable by a preponderance of the evidence, to be evaluated and considered in accordance with the criteria set forth in §48-9-209 of this code.
(a) A party seeking a judicial allocation of custodial responsibility or decision-making responsibility under this article shall file a proposed parenting plan with the court. Parties may file a joint plan. A proposed plan shall be verified and shall state, to the extent known or reasonably discoverable by the filing party or parties:
(1) The name, address, and length of residence of any adults with whom the child has lived for one year or more, or in the case of a child less than one year of age, any adults with whom the child has lived since the child’s birth;
(2) The name and address of each of the child’s parents and any other individuals with standing to participate in the action under §48-9-103 of this code;
(3) A description of the allocation of caretaking and other parenting responsibilities performed by each person named in §48-9-205(a)(1) and §48-9-205(a)(2) of this code;
(4) A description of the work and child-care schedules of any person seeking an allocation of custodial responsibility and any expected changes to these schedules in the near future;
(5) A description of the child’s school and extracurricular activities;
(6) A description of any of the criteria described in §48-9-209 of this code that are present, including any restraining orders against either parent to prevent domestic or family violence, by case number and jurisdiction;
(7) Required financial information; and
(8) A description of the known areas of agreement and disagreement with any other parenting plan submitted in the case.
The court shall maintain the confidentiality of any information required to be filed under this section when the person giving that information has a reasonable fear of domestic abuse, and disclosure of the information would increase that fear.
(b) The court shall develop a process to identify cases in which there is credible information that child abuse or neglect as defined in §49-1-201 of this code or domestic violence as defined in §48-27-202 of this code has occurred. The process shall include assistance for possible victims of domestic abuse in complying with §48-9-205(a)(6) of this code and referral to appropriate resources for safe shelter, counseling, safety planning, information regarding the potential impact of domestic abuse on children, and information regarding civil and criminal remedies for domestic abuse. The process shall also include a system for ensuring that jointly submitted parenting plans that are filed in cases in which there is credible information that child abuse or domestic abuse has occurred receive the court review that is mandated by §48-9-202(b) of this code.
(c) Upon motion of a party and after consideration of the evidence, the court shall order a parenting plan consistent with the provisions of §48-9-206 through §48-9-209 of this code, containing:
(1) A provision for the child’s living arrangements and each parent’s custodial responsibility, which shall include either:
(A) A custodial schedule that designates in which parent’s home each minor child will reside on given days of the year; or
(B) A formula or method for determining a schedule in sufficient detail that, if necessary, the schedule can be enforced in subsequent proceedings by the court;
(2) An allocation of decision-making responsibility as to significant matters reasonably likely to arise with respect to the child;
(3) A provision consistent with §48-9-202 of this code for resolution of disputes that arise under the plan and remedies for violations of the plan;
(4) Provisions for the financial support of the child or children; and
(5) A plan for the custody of the child if one or both of the parents as a member of the National Guard, a reserve component, or an active duty component are mobilized, deployed, or called to active duty.
(d) A parenting plan may, at the court’s discretion, contain provisions that address matters that are expected to arise in the event of a party’s relocation, or provide for future modifications in the parenting plan if specified contingencies occur.
(a) Unless otherwise resolved by agreement of the parents under §48-9-201 of this code or unless harmful to the child, the court shall allocate custodial responsibility so that, except to the extent required under §48-9-209 of this code, the custodial time the child spends with each parent shall be equal (50-50).
(b) The court shall apply the principles set forth in §48-9-403 of this code if one parent relocates or proposes to relocate at a distance that will impair the ability of a parent to exercise the amount of custodial responsibility that would otherwise be ordered under this section.
(c) The court may consider the allocation of custodial responsibility arising from temporary agreements made by the parties after separation if the court finds, by a preponderance of the evidence, that such agreements were consensual. The court shall afford those temporary consensual agreements the weight the court believes the agreements are entitled to receive, based upon the evidence. The court may not consider the temporary allocation of custodial responsibility imposed by a court order on the parties unless both parties agreed to the allocation provided for in the temporary order.
(d) In the absence of an agreement of the parents, the court’s determination of allocation of custodial responsibility under this section shall be made pursuant to a final hearing, which shall be conducted by the presentation of evidence. The court’s order determining allocation of custodial responsibility shall be in writing, and include specific findings of fact and conclusions of law supporting the determination.
(a) Unless otherwise resolved by agreement of the parents under §48-9-201 of this code, the court shall allocate responsibility for making significant life decisions on behalf of the child, including the child’s education and health care, to one parent or to both parents jointly, in accordance with the child’s best interest, in light of the ability or inability of the parents, based upon the evidence before the court, to work collaboratively and in cooperation with each other in decisionmaking on behalf of the child, and the existence of any criteria as set forth in §48-9-209 of this code.
(1) The level of each parent’s participation in past decision making on behalf of the child;
(2) The wishes of the parents; and
(3) The level of ability and cooperation the parents have demonstrated in decisionmaking on behalf of the child.
(b) If each of the child’s parents has been exercising a reasonable share of the parenting functions for the child, there shall be a rebuttable presumption that an allocation of decision-making responsibility to both parents jointly is in the child’s best interests. The presumption may be rebutted by a showing that joint allocation of decision-making responsibility is not in the child’s best interest upon proof by a preponderance of the evidence of relevant factors under §48-9-209 of this code. The court’s determination shall be in writing and include specific findings of fact supporting any determination that joint allocation of decision-making responsibility is not in the child’s best interest.
(c) Unless otherwise agreed to by the parents or ordered by the court, each parent who is exercising custodial responsibility shall be given sole responsibility for day-to-day decisions for the child, while the child is in that parent’s care and control, including emergency decisions affecting the health and safety of the child.
(a) If provisions for resolving parental disputes are not ordered by the court pursuant to a parenting agreement in §48-9-201 of this code, the court shall order a method of resolving disputes that serves the child’s best interest in light of:
(1) The parents’ wishes and the stability of the child;
(2) Circumstances, including, but not limited to, financial circumstances, that may affect the parents’ ability to participate in a prescribed dispute resolution process; and
(3) The existence of any factor set forth in §48-9-209 of this code.
(b) The court may order a non-judicial process of dispute resolution by designating with particularity the person or agency to conduct the process or the method for selecting a person or agency. The disposition of a dispute through a non-judicial method of dispute resolution that has been ordered by the court without prior parental agreement is subject to de novo judicial review. If the parents have agreed in a parenting plan or by agreement thereafter to a binding resolution of their dispute by non-judicial means, a decision by such means is binding upon the parents and must be enforced by the court, unless it is shown to be contrary to the best interests of the child, beyond the scope of the parents’ agreement, or the result of fraud, misconduct, corruption, or other serious irregularity.
(c) This section is subject to the limitations imposed by §48-9-202 of this code.
When entering an order approving or implementing a temporary or permanent parenting plan order, including custodial allocation, the court shall consider whether a parent:
(1) Has abused, neglected, or abandoned a child, as defined by state law;
(2) Has sexually assaulted or sexually abused a child as those terms are defined in §61-8B-1 et seq. and §61-8D-1 et seq. of this code;
(3) Has committed domestic violence, as defined in §48-27-202 of this code;
(4) Has overtly or covertly, persistently violated, interfered with, impaired, or impeded the rights of a parent or a child with respect to the exercise of shared authority, residence, visitation, or other contact with the child, except in the case of actions taken for the purpose of protecting the safety of the child or the interfering parent or another family member, pending adjudication of the facts underlying that belief; or
(5) Has made one or more fraudulent reports of domestic violence or child abuse: Provided, That a person’s withdrawal of or failure to pursue a report of domestic violence or child support shall not alone be sufficient to consider that report fraudulent.
(b) If a parent or another person regularly in the household of the parent is found to have engaged in any activity specified by subsection (a) of this section, the court shall impose limits that are reasonably calculated to protect the child or child’s parent from harm. The limitations that the court shall consider include, but are not limited to:
(1) An adjustment of the custodial responsibility of the parents, including but not limited to:
(A) Increased parenting time with the child to make up for any parenting time the other parent lost as a result of the proscribed activity;
(B) An additional allocation of parenting time in order to repair any adverse effect upon the relationship between the child and the other parent resulting from the proscribed activity; or
(C) The allocation of exclusive custodial responsibility to one of the parents;
(2) Supervision of the custodial time between a parent and the child;
(3) Exchange of the child between parents through an intermediary, or in a protected setting;
(4) Restraints on the parent from communication with, or proximity to, the other parent or the child;
(5) A requirement that the parent abstain from possession or consumption of alcohol or nonprescribed drugs while exercising custodial responsibility and in the 24-hour period immediately preceding such exercise;
(6) Denial of overnight custodial responsibility;
(7) Restrictions on the presence of specific persons while the parent is with the child;
(8) A requirement that the parent post a bond to secure return of the child following a period in which the parent is exercising custodial responsibility or to secure other performance required by the court;
(9) A requirement that the parent complete a program of intervention for perpetrators of domestic violence, for drug or alcohol abuse, or a program designed to correct another factor; or
(10) Any other constraints or conditions that the court determines to be necessary to provide for the safety of the child, a child’s parent, or any person whose safety immediately affects the child’s welfare.
(c) If a parent or a person regularly in the home of the parent is found to have engaged in any activity specified in subsection (a) of this section, the court may not allocate custodial responsibility or decision-making responsibility to that parent without making special written findings that the child and other parent can be adequately protected from harm by such limits as it may impose under subsection (b) of this section. The parent found to have engaged in the behavior specified in subsection (a) of this section has the burden of proving that an allocation of custodial responsibility or decision-making responsibility to that parent will not endanger the child or the other parent.
(d) If the court determines, based on the investigation described in part III of this article or other evidence presented to it, that an accusation of child abuse or neglect, or domestic violence made during a child custody proceeding is false and the parent making the accusation knew it to be false at the time the accusation was made, the court may order reimbursement to be paid by the person making the accusations of costs resulting from defending against the accusations. The reimbursement may not exceed the actual reasonable costs incurred by the accused party as a result of defending against the accusation and reasonable attorney’s fees incurred.
(e) (1) A parent who believes he or she is the subject of activities by the other parent described in subdivision (5), subsection (a) of this section may move the court pursuant to §49-5-101(b)(4) of this code for the Department of Health and Human Resources to disclose whether the other parent was the source of the allegation and, if so, whether the department found the report to be:
(C) Inconclusive; or
(D) Still under investigation.
(2) If the court grants a motion pursuant to this subsection, disclosure by the Department of Health and Human Resources shall be in camera. The court may disclose to the parties information received from the department only if it has reason to believe a parent knowingly made a false report.
(f) In determining whether the presumption for an equal (50-50) allocation of physical custody has been rebutted, a court shall consider all relevant factors including any of the following:
(1) The factors set forth in subsection (a) of this section;
(2) Whether the child:
(A) Was conceived as a result of sexual assault or sexual abuse by a parent as set forth in §48-9-209a of this code;
(B) Has special needs, a chronic illness, or other serious medical condition and would receive more appropriate care under another custodial allocation;
(C) Is a nursing child less than six months of age, or less than one year of age if the child receives substantial nutrition through nursing: Provided, That the child reaching one year of age shall qualify as a substantial change in circumstances per §48-9-401 of this code; or
(D) Will be separated from his or her siblings or the arrangement would otherwise disrupt the child’s opportunities to bond with his or her siblings;
(3) Whether a parent:
(A) Is willfully noncompliant with a previous order of the court regarding payment of child support payments for a child or children of the parties;
(B) Is unwilling to seek necessary medical intervention for the child who has a serious medical condition;
(C) Has a chronic illness or other condition that renders him or her unable to provide proper care for the child;
(D) Has intentionally avoided or refused involvement or not been significantly involved in the child’s life prior to the hearing, except when the lack of involvement is the result of actions on the part of the other parent which were, without good cause, designed to deprive the parent of contact and involvement with his or her child or children without good cause;
(E) Repeatedly causes the child or children to be in the care of a third party rather than the other parent when he or she is available;
(F) Does not have a stable housing situation: Provided, That a parent’s temporary residence with a child in a domestic violence shelter shall not constitute an unsafe housing situation; or
(G) Is unwilling or unable to perform caretaking functions for the child as required by §48-1-210 of this code;
(4) Whether a parent, partner, or other person living, or regularly in that parent’s household:
(A) Has been adjudicated in an abuse and neglect proceeding to have abused or neglected a child, or has a pending abuse and neglect case;
(B) Has been judicially determined to have committed domestic violence or has a pending domestic violence case;
(C) Has a felony criminal record;
(D) Is addicted to a controlled substance or alcohol;
(E) Has threatened or has actually detained the child with the intent to retain or conceal the child from the other parent or from a third person who has legal custody: Provided, That a parent’s temporary residence with the child in a domestic violence shelter shall not be construed as evidence of the parent’s intent to retain or conceal the child from the other parent; or
(F) Has been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility, or suffers from a serious mental illness;
(5) Whether an equal (50-50) physical allocation is:
(A) Impractical because of the physical distance between the parents’ residences;
(B) Impractical due to the cost and difficulty of transporting the child;
(C) Impractical due to each parent’s and the child’s daily schedules;
(D) Would disrupt the education of the child; or
(E) Contrary to the firm and reasonable preferences of a child who is 14 years of age or older; and to accommodate, if the court determines it is in the best interests of the child, the firm and reasonable preferences of a child under 14 years of age, but sufficiently matured that he or she can intelligently express a voluntary preference for one parent;(6) Whether the parents cannot work cooperatively and collaboratively in the best interest of the child; or
(7) Whether a parent will encourage and accept a positive relationship between the child and the other parent, including which parent is more likely to keep the other parent involved in the child’s life and activities.
(a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, if a child custodial responsibility or parenting time dispute involves a child who is conceived as a result of acts by which one of the child's biological parents has been convicted of sexual assault, pursuant to section three, four or five, article eight-b, chapter sixty-one of this code, or of sexual abuse by a parent, guardian or custodian, pursuant to section five, article eight-d, chapter sixty-one of this code, the court shall not allocate custodial responsibility to the biological parent convicted of the sexual assault, and the convicted parent has no right to parenting time with the child unless the court finds by clear and convincing evidence set forth in written findings that it is in the best interests of the child, adequately protects the child and the victim of the sexual offense and that the person or persons with custodial responsibility of the child consent thereto.
(b) Subsection (a) does not apply if:
(1) The biological parents are husband and wife at the time of the offense and, after the date of conviction, cohabit and establish a mutual custodial environment for the child; or
(2) After the date of conviction, the unmarried biological parents cohabit and establish a mutual custodial environment for the child.
(c) If persons described by subsection (b) of this section later separate or divorce, the conviction of sexual assault, pursuant to section three, four or five, article eight-b, chapter sixty-one of this code, or of sexual abuse by a parent, guardian or custodian, pursuant to section five, article eight-d, chapter sixty-one of this code creates a rebuttable presumption that exclusive or shared custodial responsibility of the child by the perpetrator of the offense is not in the best interests of the child. The convicted parent has no right to parenting time with the child unless the court finds by clear and convincing evidence set forth in written findings that, despite the rebuttable presumption required by this subsection, a custodial responsibility or parenting time arrangement with the convicted parent is in the best interests of the child, adequately protects the child and the victim of the sexual offense, and that the victim of the sexual offense consents thereto.
(d) A denial of custodial responsibility or parenting time under this section does not by itself terminate the parental rights of the person denied custodial responsibility or parenting time, nor does it affect the obligation of the person to support the minor child.
(a) In its discretion, the court may order a written investigation and report to assist it in determining any issue relevant to proceedings under this article: Provided, That the court must serve notice to all parties of the court’s order. The investigation and report may be made by the guardian ad litem, the staff of the court, or other professional social service organization experienced in counseling children and families: Provided, That the court shall identify to all parties the identity of the assigned investigator, and the investigator shall be a compulsory witness and subject to full examination and cross-examination by both parties. The court shall specify the scope and objective of the investigation or evaluation and the authority of the investigator.
(b) In preparing the report concerning a child, the investigator may consult any person who may have information about the child and the potential parenting or custodian arrangements: Provided, That the person(s) consulted by the investigator shall be identified to the parties and shall be subject to complete discovery including but not limited to pre-hearing deposition. Upon order of the court, the investigator may refer the child to professional personnel for diagnosis. The investigator may consult with and obtain information from medical, psychiatric or other expert persons who have served the child in the past without obtaining the consent of the parent or the child’s custodian; but the child’s consent must be obtained if the child has reached the age of twelve, unless the court finds that the child lacks mental capacity to consent. If the requirements of subsection (c) of this section are fulfilled, the investigator’s report may be received in evidence at the hearing.
(c) The investigator shall deliver the investigator’s report to counsel and to any party not represented by counsel at least 10 days prior to the hearing unless a shorter time is ordered by the court for good cause shown: Provided, That in no event shall the hearing take place until after the report has been provided to the parties and the completion of any discovery requested thereupon. The court may grant a continuance, upon motion by a party showing good cause that discovery cannot be adequately completed within 10 days. The investigator shall make available to counsel and to any party not represented by counsel the investigator’s file of underlying data and reports, records or documents reviewed or relied upon by the investigator, complete texts of diagnostic reports made to the investigator pursuant to the provisions of subsection (b) of this section, and the names and addresses of all persons whom the investigator has consulted. Any party to the proceeding may call as a hearing witness the investigator and any person whom the investigator has consulted for cross-examination. A party may not waive the right of cross-examination prior to the hearing.
(d) Services and tests ordered under this section shall be ordered only if at no cost to the individuals involved, or at a cost that is reasonable in light of the available financial resources.
(a) If allegations of child abuse are made during a child custody proceeding and the court has concerns regarding the child’s safety, the court may take any reasonable, temporary steps as the court, in its discretion, considers appropriate under the circumstances to protect the child’s safety until an investigation can be completed. Nothing in this subsection shall affect the applicability of §49-2-802 and §49-2-803 of this code.
(b) If allegations of child abuse are made during a child custody proceeding, the court may request that the local child protective service conduct an investigation of the allegations pursuant to §49-2-801 through §49-2-814 of this code. Upon completion of the investigation, the agency shall report its findings to the court.
(a) In its discretion, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the child's best interests. The court shall specify the terms of the appointment, including the guardian's role, duties and scope of authority.
(b) In its discretion, the court may appoint a lawyer to represent the child, if the child is competent to direct the terms of the representation and court has a reasonable basis for finding that the appointment would be helpful in resolving the issues of the case. The court shall specify the terms of the appointment, including the lawyer's role, duties and scope of authority.
(c) When substantial allegations of domestic abuse have been made, the court shall order an investigation under section 9-301 or make an appointment under subsection (a) or (b) of this section, unless the court is satisfied that the information necessary to evaluate the allegations will be adequately presented to the court without such order or appointment.
(d) Subject to whatever restrictions the court may impose or that may be imposed by the attorney-client privilege or by subsection 9-202(d), the court may require the child or parent to provide information to an individual or agency appointed by the court under section 9-301 or subsection (a) or (b) of this section, and it may require any person having information about the child or parent to provide that information, even in the absence of consent by a parent or by the child, except if the information is otherwise protected by law.
(e) The investigator who submits a report or evidence to the court that has been requested under section 9-301 and a guardian ad litem appointed under subsection (a) of this section who submits information or recommendations to the court are subject to cross-examination by the parties. A lawyer appointed under subsection (b) of this section may not be a witness in the proceedings, except as allowed under standards applicable in other civil proceedings.
(f) Services and tests ordered under this section shall be ordered only if at no cost to the individuals involved, or at a cost that is reasonable in light of the available financial resources.
The court, in its discretion, may interview the child in chambers or direct another person to interview the child, in order to obtain information relating to the issues of the case. The interview shall be conducted in accordance with rule 16 of the rules of practice and procedure for family law, as promulgated by the Supreme Court of Appeals.
(a) Except as provided in §48-9-402 or §48-9-403 of this code, a court shall modify a parenting plan order if it finds, on the basis of facts that were not known or have arisen since the entry of the prior order and were not anticipated in the prior order, that a substantial change has occurred in the circumstances of the child or of one or both parents and a modification is necessary to serve the best interests of the child.
(b) In exceptional circumstances, a court may modify a parenting plan if it finds that the plan is not working as contemplated and in some specific way is manifestly harmful to the child, even if a substantial change of circumstances has not occurred.
(c) Unless the parents have agreed otherwise, the following circumstances do not justify a significant modification of a parenting plan except where harm to the child is shown:
(1) Circumstances resulting in an involuntary loss of income, by loss of employment or otherwise, affecting the parent’s economic status;
(2) A parent’s remarriage or cohabitation, except under the circumstances set forth in §48-9-209(f) of this code; and
(3) Choice of reasonable caretaking arrangements for the child by a legal parent, including the child’s placement in day care.
(d) For purposes of subsection (a) of this section, the occurrence or worsening of a limiting factor, as defined in §48-9-209(a) of this code, after a parenting plan has been ordered by the court constitutes a substantial change of circumstances and measures shall be ordered pursuant to §48-9-209 of this code to protect the child or the child’s parent.
(a) The court shall modify a parenting plan in accordance with a parenting agreement, unless it finds that the agreement is not knowing and voluntary or that it would be harmful to the child.
(b) The court may modify any provisions of the parenting plan without the showing of the changed circumstances required by §48-9-401(a) of this code if the modification is in the child’s best interests, and the modification:
(1) Reflects the de facto arrangements under which the child has been receiving care from the petitioner, without objection, in substantial deviation from the parenting plan, for the preceding six months before the petition for modification is filed, provided the arrangement is not the result of a parent’s acquiescence resulting from the other parent’s domestic abuse;
(2) Constitutes a minor modification in the plan;
(3) Is necessary to accommodate the reasonable and firm preferences of a child who, has attained the age of 14; or
(4) Is necessary to accommodate the reasonable and firm preferences of a child who is under the age of 14 and, in the discretion of the court, is sufficiently matured that he or she can intelligently express a voluntary preference;
(c) Evidence of repeated filings of fraudulent reports of domestic violence or child abuse is admissible in a domestic relations action between the involved parties when the allocation of custodial responsibilities is in issue, and the fraudulent accusations may be a factor considered by the court in making the allocation of custodial responsibilities.
(a) The relocation of a parent constitutes a substantial change in the circumstances of the child under §48-9-401(a) of this code when it impairs either parent’s ability to exercise responsibilities that the parent has been exercising, or when it impairs the schedule of custodial allocation that has been ordered by the court for a parent or any other person.
(b) A parent who has responsibility under a parenting plan who changes, or intends to change, residences must file a verified petition with the court for modification of the parenting plan, and cause a copy of the same to be served upon the other parent and upon all other persons who, pursuant to the court’s order in effect at the time of the petition, have been allocated custodial time with the child. The petition shall be filed at least 90 days prior to any relocation, and the summons must be served at least 60 days in advance of any relocation, unless the relocating parent establishes that it was impracticable under the circumstances to provide such notice 90 days in advance. The verified petition shall include:
(1) The proposed relocation date;
(2) The address of the intended new residence;
(3) The specific reasons for the proposed relocation;
(4) A proposal for how custodial responsibility shall be modified, in light of the intended move; and
(5) A request for a hearing.
Failure to comply with the requirements of this section may be a factor in the determination of whether the relocation is in good faith under subsection (d) of this section, and may also be a basis for reallocation of the primary residence and custodial responsibility for the child and for an award of reasonable expenses and reasonable attorney’s fees to another parent or another person exercising custodial responsibility for the child pursuant to an order of the court that are attributable to such failure.
(c) A hearing on the petition shall be held by the court at least 30 days in advance of the proposed date of relocation. A parent proposing to relocate may move for an expedited hearing upon the petition in circumstances under which the parent needs an answer expeditiously. If the hearing is held fewer than 30 days in advance of the proposed date of relocation, the court’s order shall include findings of fact as to why the hearing was not held at least 30 days prior to the petition’s proposed date of relocation. After a hearing upon a petition filed under this section, the court shall, if practical, revise the parenting plan so as to both accommodate the relocation and maintain the same proportion of custodial responsibility being exercised by each of the parents and all such other persons exercising custodial responsibility for the child pursuant to the order of the court. In making such revision, the court may consider the additional costs that a relocation imposes upon the respective parties for transportation and communication, and may equitably allocate such costs between the parties and may consider §48-13-702 of this code authorizing the court to disregard the child support formula relating to long distance visitation costs.
(d) (1) At the hearing held pursuant to this section, the relocating parent has the burden of proving that: (A) The reasons for the proposed relocation are legitimate and made in good faith; (B) that allowing relocation of the relocating parent with the child is in the best interests of the child as defined in §48-9-102 of this code; and (C) that there is no reasonable alternative, other than the proposed relocation, available to the relocating parent that would be in the child’s best interests and less disruptive to the child.
(2) A relocation is for a legitimate purpose if it is to be close to immediate family members, for substantial health reasons, to protect the safety of the child or another member of the child’s household from significant risk of harm, to pursue a significant employment or educational opportunity, or to be with one’s spouse or significant other with whom the relocating parent has cohabitated for at least a year, who is established, or who is pursuing a significant employment or educational opportunity, in another location.
(3) The relocating parent has the burden of proving the proposed relocation is for one of these legitimate purposes. The relocating parent has the burden of proving the legitimacy of any other purpose. A move with a legitimate purpose is unreasonable unless the relocating parent proves that the purpose is not substantially achievable without moving, and that moving to a location that is substantially less disruptive of the other parent’s relationship to the child is not feasible.
(4) When the relocation is for a legitimate purpose, in good faith, and renders it impractical to maintain the same proportion of custodial responsibility as that being exercised by each parent and all other persons exercising custodial responsibility for the child pursuant to an order of the court, the court shall modify the parenting plan in accordance with the child’s best interests.
(5) If the relocating parent does not establish that the purpose for that parent’s relocation is made in good faith for a legitimate purpose to a location that is reasonable in light of the purpose, the court may modify the parenting plan in accordance with the child’s best interests and the effects of the relocation on the child. Among the modifications the court may consider is a reallocation of primary custodial responsibility, to become effective if and when the parent’s relocation occurs.
(6) The court shall attempt to minimize impairment to a parent-child relationship caused by a parent’s relocation through alternative arrangements for the exercise of custodial responsibility appropriate to the parents’ resources and circumstances and the developmental level of the child.
(e) If the parties file with the court a modified parenting plan signed by all the parties the court may enter an order modifying custodial responsibility in accordance with the parenting plan if the court determines that the parenting plan is in the best interest of the child to do so.
(f) Except in extraordinary circumstance articulated in the court’s order, a relocation may not be considered until an initial permanent parenting plan is established.
(g) In determining the effect of the relocation or proposed relocation on a child, any interviewing or questioning of the child shall be conducted in accordance with the provisions of Rule 17 of the Rules of Practice and Procedure for Family Court as promulgated by the Supreme Court of Appeals.
Acts, 2017 Reg. Sess., Ch. 66.
(a) If, upon a parental complaint, the court finds a parent intentionally and without good cause violated a provision of the court-ordered parenting plan, it shall enforce the remedy specified in the plan or, if no remedies are specified or they are clearly inadequate, it shall find the plan has been violated and order an appropriate remedy, which may include:
(1) In the case of interference with the exercise of custodial responsibility for a child by the other parent, substitute time for that parent to make up for time missed with the child;
(2) In the case of missed time by a parent, costs in recognition of lost opportunities by the other parent, in child care costs and other reasonable expenses in connection with the missed time;
(3) A modification of the plan, if the requirements for a modification are met under section 9-209, section 9-401, 402 or 403 of this article, including an adjustment of the custodial responsibility of the parents or an allocation of exclusive custodial responsibility to one of them;
(4) An order that the parent who violated the plan obtain appropriate counseling;
(5) A civil penalty, in an amount of not more than $100 for a first offense, not more than $500 for a second offense, or not more than $1,000 for a third or subsequent offense, to be paid to the parent education fund as established under section 9-104;
(6) Court costs, reasonable attorney's fees and any other reasonable expenses in enforcing the plan; and
(7) Any other appropriate remedy.
(b) Except as provided in a jointly submitted plan that has been ordered by the court, obligations established in a parenting plan are independent obligations, and it is not a defense to an action under this section by one parent that the other parent failed to meet obligations under a parenting plan or child support order.
(c) An agreement between the parents to depart from the parenting plan can be a defense to a claim that the plan has been violated, even though the agreement was not made part of a court order, but only as to acts or omissions consistent with the agreement that occur before the agreement is disaffirmed by either parent.
(a)(1) Each parent has full and equal access to a child’s educational records absent a court order to the contrary. Neither parent may veto the access requested by the other parent. Educational records are academic, attendance and disciplinary records of public and private schools in all grades pre-kindergarten through 12 and any form of alternative school. Educational records are any and all school records concerning the child that would otherwise be properly released to the primary custodial parent, including, but not limited to, report cards and progress reports, attendance records, disciplinary reports, results of the child’s performance on standardized tests and statewide tests and information on the performance of the school that the child attends on standardized statewide tests; curriculum materials of the class or classes in which the child is enrolled; names of the appropriate school personnel to contact if problems arise with the child; information concerning the academic performance standards, proficiencies, or skills the child is expected to accomplish; school rules, attendance policies, dress codes and procedures for visiting the school; and information about any psychological testing the school does involving the child.
(2) In addition to the right to receive school records, the nonresidential parent has the right to participate as a member of a parent advisory committee or any other organization comprised of parents of children at the school that the child attends.
(3) The nonresidential parent or noncustodial parent has the right to question anything in the child’s record that the parent feels is inaccurate or misleading or is an invasion of privacy and to receive a response from the school.
(4) Each parent has a right to arrange appointments for parent-teacher conferences absent a court order to the contrary. Neither parent can be compelled against their will to exercise this right by attending conferences jointly with the other parent.
(b)(1) Each parent has full and equal access to a child’s medical records and vital records absent a court order to the contrary. Neither parent may veto the access requested by the other parent. If necessary, either parent is required to authorize medical providers to release to the other parent copies of any and all information concerning medical care provided to the child which would otherwise be properly released to either parent.
(2) If the child is in the actual physical custody of one parent, that parent is required to promptly inform the other parent of any illness of the child which requires medical attention.
(3) Each parent is required to consult with the other parent prior to any elective surgery being performed on the child, and in the event emergency medical procedures are undertaken for the child which require the parental consent of either parent, if time permits, the other parent shall be consulted, or if time does not permit such consultation, the other parent shall be promptly informed of the emergency medical procedures: Provided, That nothing contained herein alters or amends the law of this state as it otherwise pertains to physicians or health care facilities obtaining parental consent prior to providing medical care or performing medical procedures.
(c)(1) Each parent has full and equal access to a child’s juvenile court records, process and pleadings, absent a court order to the contrary. Neither parent may veto any access requested by the other parent. Juvenile court records are limited to those records which are normally available to a parent of a child who is a subject of the juvenile justice system.
(2) Each parent has the right to be notified by the other party if the minor child is the victim of an alleged crime, including the name of the investigating law-enforcement officer or agency, if known. There is no duty to notify if the party to be notified is the alleged perpetrator.
Solely for the purposes of all other state and federal statutes which require a designation or determination of custody, a parenting plan shall designate the parent with whom the child is scheduled to reside the majority of the time as the custodian of the child. However, this designation shall not affect either parent’s rights and responsibilities under a parenting plan. In the absence of such a designation, the parent with whom the child is scheduled to reside the majority of the time is considered to be the custodian of the child for the purposes of such federal and state statutes. When a court orders that custodial allocation shall be on an equal (50-50) basis, the court shall also specify in its order which parent may claim state and federal income tax deductions and exemptions for the child or children: Provided, That such claims to state and federal income tax deductions and exemptions for the child or children may be divided equitably between the parents, year to year.
(a) The amendments to this chapter enacted during the 2022 regular session of the Legislature shall become applicable upon the effective date of those amendments. Any order entered prior to the effective date of those amendments remains in full force and effect until modified by a court of competent jurisdiction.
(b) The amendments to this chapter enacted during the 2022 regular legislative session do not constitute a change in circumstances or other basis for modification under §48-9-401 or §48-9-402 of this code.
(c) The amendments to this chapter enacted during the 2022 regular legislative session shall become applicable upon the effective date of those amendments. Any order entered prior to the effective date of those amendments remains in full force and effect until modified by a court of competent jurisdiction.
(d) The amendments to this chapter enacted during the 2022 regular legislative session shall be known as the 2022 Best Interest of the Child Act.
There is hereby created in the state Treasury a special revenue account, designated the "parent education and mediation fund." The moneys of the fund shall be expended by the administrator of the Supreme Court of Appeals for parent education and mediation programs.