In the last several months, I’ve blogged about how to get divorced in West Virginia without a lawyer. The series has addressed everything from working out an agreement to filing the paperwork with the court. During May, my blog posts concern issues about children. Today’s post provides an overview of five things to consider when filing for divorce (with children) without a lawyer. In subsequent posts the month, I’ll provide some guidance so that you can develop your own, unique parenting plan. Are you thinking about filing for divorce without a lawyer? Think about this:
1. There is no such thing as 50/50 or joint custody. In West Virginia, parents share in their decision-making authority and allocation of custodial responsibility. Parents can develop parenting plans to provide for decision-making and custodial responsibility in mediation and with collaborative law. When they can’t agree, a court decides on this allocation.
2. It’s a bad idea to get a divorce or have a “custody battle” without a lawyer. When parents are unable to agree on how to make decisions about their children or how to allocate their time between the parent’s households, the judge makes the decision. Judges make decisions based on the law, including statutes and case law. Judges look at the facts through very narrow procedural rules. The three types of law: procedural rules, statutes, and case law are complicated, and it is nearly impossible for a person without a law degree and significant experience to navigate the process. If you cannot work out a parenting plan in mediation, hire a lawyer. You may still be able to reduce the cost and damage to your children by selecting a collaborative lawyer, but you need a lawyer.
3. Parenting plans can be unique, and you may tailor them to suit your family. In West Virginia, decision-making authority and custodial responsibility must be included in a parenting plan. The court has one form for the plan, but you have the flexibility to create your plan. The best way to develop a parenting plan is with the help of a mediator before you file for divorce or custody. A trained, professional mediator can take the time to work with your family to divide your children’s time during the holidays or the school year time as well as consider other issues that might be important to your family. Check my blog later this month for details to help you write your parenting plan.
4. You will need to figure out child support. Every child custody case in West Virginia has child support ordered, generally in accord with the statutory guidelines. You may find the statute about child support here. You can calculate your child support according to the instructions uploaded here. Unfortunately, there is currently no on-line calculator for child support in cases with extended shared parenting in West Virginia. Many attorneys and mediators can provide you with guidance in applying the guidelines in West Virginia. If you do not have child support calculated before you go to court, the court will calculate your support.
5. When children are neglected or abused, their parents need lawyers. If you sincerely believe that the other parent has abused or neglected your children, you should not consider getting a divorce without a lawyer. Navigating procedural and substantive law is very difficult if not impossible for a layperson. If your children have been neglected, it is even more important that you not enter into that process without an advocate who can navigate this system to protect your children from both further abuse and unnecessary trauma in the legal process. It may be possible to use collaborative law and mediation in some situations; however, you should hire an attorney to help you find the best resolution for your child.
This month, I’ll continue blogging on this theme and provide you with ideas that may help you develop your parenting plan. Contact me if you'd like to discuss how mediation or collaborative divorce might be helpful to you.