With your decision-making parenting plan in one hand and the answers to some important questions about jobs and schedules in the other, you are ready to start marking up a calendar to decide how to divide custodial time.  You might want to print out some calendars and mark them up with different schedules.  Printed calendars make it easier to evaluate the possible plans.

When you are working in mediation or collaborative law, you can create most any schedule you want to create to suit your families' needs.  

The schedules I’m describing in this post are examples of what has worked for some families. Of course, if you cannot develop a plan through mediation, negotiation, or collaborative processes, you will be stuck with a schedule that a judge creates that may or may not be as tailored to your families’ needs.  

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Last week we looked at how to create a parenting plan to divide your decision making after divorce. Establishing details and processes for decision making is the foundation of a terrific parenting plan.   Create a plan with the help of an experienced mediator, family counselor, or collaborative attorney to draft a strong agreement-- built to withstand a lot of wear of tear!  Next, you’ll develop the second part of your parenting plan, a schedule outlining what nights your child is sleeping at each house—or “allocation of custodial responsibility.” 

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This month I'm continuing my series on filing for divorce without a lawyer, and in May focusing on children.   When you file for divorce in West Virginia, like most states, you'll need to have a parenting plan.  The plan has two parts: which nights your children sleep in each house (allocation of custodial time)  and how the parents will make decisions (decision making authority).   Today's post will help you develop the decision-making part of your parenting plan.

When parents are not living together, a parenting plan helps to guide the parents on how to make important decisions about their children.  Plans can be developed informally between the parents, during mediation sessions, or using a collaborative process.  All three of these processes may involve attorneys.  Mediation may be conducted between the parties.   Parenting plans can be designed by attorneys, with guidance from the parents. In situations when the parents can’t agree, the judge can develop and order a parenting plan.  

Most families will be best served by developing their plan, in mediation or collaborative law. Here are some questions you may want to consider in creating your own parenting plan.   

Health care

parenting plan includes medical decisions
  • How will decisions be shared or made about dental or medical treatment? What about vaccinations or other preventative treatments?  What happens when the parents do not agree?
  • How will parents notify each other when the children need emergency treatment?  What if you can't reach the other parent?
  • Who will take the child to medical appointments?
  • How will you decide about special needs such as orthodontic treatment, counseling, physiotherapy, speech therapy, diet, glasses, prescription drugs. 
  • How will you be sure that both parents have access to all medical records?


  • How will decisions about any choice or change in school, school program, special educational needs, tutoring, etc. be made?
  • How will school records and calendars be accessed or shared? 
  • Will both parents attend at parent-teacher conferences and school events?
  • Will both parents have the opportunity to attend school trips?  How can that be facilitated?  
  • Can the parents agree on when children can be absent from school?  

Extra-curricular activities

  • How will you make decisions about your children’s participation in extra-curricular activities? How will you decide on what type of activities or how many?  
  • How will you work to develop a schedule of activities for children and resolve disputes about transportation and cost issues?


  • How will these decisions about church attendance and religious upbringing be made?  Will there be a process if the parents have different beliefs to introduce the children to both?  What if the children chose to attend other religious services?  At what age would that be possible?


  • How will decisions about cultural events, education, and activities be made?
  • Will the children be introduced to another language?  How and when?

Grandparents and extended family

decision making cousins
  • Do you want to encourage relationships with extended family members? How often and when will visits with extended family take place? Who will be in attendance?
  • How and when will children communicate with their extended family?


  • Will notice of travel be given to the other parent? Should notice be given for all travel or just travel that is out of state or a certain distance? 
  • How do you want to address written consent for your child to travel out of the country since that is often required? 
  • Who will keep the child's passport? Can each parent have a copy of the passport number?

Communication between parents

  • List the kind of information that you will be sharing between parents.  That usually includes the children’s medical and school information, all addresses and telephone number, and any extended travel plans. 
  • How will you communicate?  Remember that texting and email can be good for brief information but consider adding in meetings and telephone conferences periodically to address more difficult problems.  Some families have on-line calendars to manage schedules
  • How frequently do you expect to communicate by various methods. Setting up expectations can be helpful.
  • How will you communicate in emergencies?
  • Making changes to parenting plan
  • You should include both formal and informal processes of making minor and major changes to the parenting plan.  For example, you may want to build in flexibility on pick up times.  You may then designate mediation as a process for you to work with the other parent to make major decisions about education or substantial changes in the allocation of custodial time.  

Solving Problems
Be sure to include a method for resolving disagreements over the parenting plan.  We normally recommend that families attend counseling together or use a mediator to address future conflict over parenting plans. In your plan, decide how you will divide the costs for these services.  

Other parenting issues

Families may want to include some of these provisions.  They do not apply to every family or child, but it doesn’t hurt to think about them when you are working on the plan.

  • If one parent needs to be out of town during their custodial time with the children, should the other parent have first choice at having the child with them?  What if the extended time is just one night?  Some plans call this "The Right of First Refusal."  
  • What do you consider to be basic safety requirements for your child?  Do you agree about the use of helmets, car seats or when a child can be left alone?  Do you agree on when a child might be able to drive or how to address underage drinking?
  •  Do you want to include provisions about discipline or lifestyle expectations?  Some families include rules about bedtime, homework or allowances.  Others require both parents agreement for piercing or tattoos.  Do you want to have both parents agree on driving or part-time employment?   
  • Do you want to include anything about the use of computers or cell phones?
  • Are there any special concerns about the child’s diet or nutrition that you want to address?
  • Are their family pets?  Where will the pet live? We often discuss and have families include a provision in he parenting plan about the involvement of new partners?  Sometimes the parent wants to meet the new partner before the child is introduced and other times they just want some form of notice.

If you have any questions about how to develop the best parenting plan for your family, please contact me and we can review the options to help you find the best process for your family.


The media can’t seem to stop generating stories about how Bruce Jenner is now Caitlyn Jenner.  I watched Diane Sawyer’s interview with Jenner about the physical and emotional process.  How about the legal process?  Has "Bruce Jenner" legally become "Caitlyn Jenner?"   I don’t know.  I do know that the process of changing your name is not difficult, but like any legal process, it’s not simple.

Legally changing your name requires filing documents with the court.  You must give notice to anyone who may be affected.  Some states require a hearing, and the process concludes when the judge signs the order. Like many legal proceedings, a petition for name change can be filed pro se, without an attorney.  However, it may be cost effective to hire an attorney.  The attorney can identify potential problems and help you through the process.

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But I Want Full Custody: The Truth About Child Custody In West Virginia

You won’t find terms such as “full custody” or “50-50” or “Schedule A visitation” in West Virginia's child custody statutes.  Rather, you’ll find provisions that allow for parents to work hard to create decision making processes and schedules that are tailored to meet the best interests of their child.   Parents who are separating should consider the options provided by mediation and collaborative law in deciding what is best for their children.  Our office provides mediation services and accepts custody matters when the parents are committed to collaborative processes to develop the parenting plan that is best for their child. 

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Many times parents believe that the child should have a chance to articulate their opinion in a divorce or child custody case. Many courts prefer that their opinions be addressed through the appointment of a specially trained lawyer, or a Guardian Ad LItem, who may interview the child outside of the courtroom.  Another option is to include children in mediation.  While this option should be employed sparingly, for some families it might serve to empower the children and bring the family closer.  Only a specially trained mediator, often working with a child specialist, can assess the situation and determine whether or not the child's participation is beneficial.  Our office accepts cases in West Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia and can work with families to determine the best mediation structure for you.


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Many children are injured at school, through accidents and through school violence.  As a parent, you will want to protect your child from this harm, but after it occurs, you will also want to take whatever action you can to help your child fully recover and enjoy school again.  Our office provides legal services and mediation services to work with families in West Virginia and the District of Columbia to help your child recover.

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