Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the family court granting Grandmother permanent guardianship of B.A., holding that the family court lacked jurisdiction to hear this case. Grandmother filed a motion for emergency order of guardianship in the family court noting that Mother was incarcerated and arguing that it was in the best interests of B.A. for her to be appointed guardian. The family court eventually entered a final order appointing Grandmother as B.A.'s guardian. Mother later filed a motion to modify and/or terminate the guardianship order, arguing that she had a material change in circumstances because she had been released from jail. The family court denied the motion. The Supreme Court vacated the family court's order, holding (1) in light of the allegations of neglect made by Grandmother and B.A.'s need for permanency, both Mother's and Father's parental rights needed to be ascertained by the circuit court under the standards set forth in chapter 49 of the West Virginia Code and the clear and convincing evidence standard articulated in West Virginia Rules of Practice and Procedure for Family Court 48a(a); and (2) therefore, the family court was divested of subject matter jurisdiction in this case. View "A.A. v. S.H." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition requested by Petitioners, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) and guardian ad litem of six minor children, seeking to prohibit the circuit court from granting a post-adjudicatory improvement period to Respondents, the children's parents, holding that the circuit court committed a clear legal error. DHHR filed an abuse and neglect petition requesting emergency custody due to the threat of imminent danger to Respondents' five adopted children and one foster child. The circuit court entered an order adjudicating Respondents as abusive. The DHHR subsequently sought termination and the guardian ad litem recommended termination and that post-dispositional improvement periods be denied. The circuit court, however, granted Respondents a six-month post-adjudicatory improvement period. This writ of prohibition followed. The Supreme Court granted the writ, holding that the circuit court misapprehended the evidence, failed to consider probative evidence, and failed to consider the best interests of the children. The Court remanded the case to the circuit court for entry of an order terminating Respondents' custodial and parental rights. View "State ex rel. West Virginia Department of Health & Human Services v. Honorable Lora A. Dyer" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the circuit court denying Mother's appeal of an order of the family court rejecting Mother's request for Father's custodial time to be supervised and allocating income tax exemptions for the parties' children solely to Father, holding that the family court abused its discretion by refusing to permit Mother to present evidence relating to alleged abuse by Father. After Mother and Father separated, Mother petitioned the family court for allocation of custodial responsibility. During two ensuing hearings, the family court rejected Mother's attempts to present evidence of Father's alleged abuse. The court awarded Mother primary custodial responsibility, granted unsupervised visitation to Father, and awarded the income tax dependency exemptions for the children to Father. The circuit court denied Mother's appeal. The Supreme Court (1) reversed the family court's order and remanded the case with instructions to hear evidence relating to alleged abuse by Father; and (2) reversed the order regarding the income tax exemption and remanded with instructions to award the exemption for both children to Mother unless any of the exceptions in W. Va. Code 48-13-801 are satisfied. View "Heather M. v. Richard R." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court vacated the orders of the family court appointing Great-Grandparents as guardians of Child and the circuit court's order affirming the family court, holding that the family court had no jurisdiction to act on Great-Grandparents' minor guardianship petition. Great-Grandparents filed a minor guardianship petition in the family court regarding Child, alleging that Child was abused and neglected. Instead of removing the case to circuit court as required by Rule 13 of the West Virginia Rules of Practice and Procedure for Minor Guardianship Proceedings the family court appointed Great-Grandparents as temporary guardians of Child. After an evidentiary hearing, the family court appointed Great-Grandparents as guardians of Child. The circuit court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the family court erred by failing immediately to remove Great-Grandparents' minor guardianship petition to the circuit court and that the family court was without subject matter jurisdiction to take any other action on the petition. View "M.H. v. C.H." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court affirming the order of the family court granting Grandparents' petition for visitation over the objection of Mother, holding that Mother's arguments could not properly be assessed because the family court failed to set forth sufficient findings of fact or conclusions of law explaining its ruling. The family court granted Grandparents' petition for visitation, and the circuit court affirmed. The record in this matter, however, only consisted of a report from the guardian ad litem. On appeal, Mother argued (1) the grandparent visitation factors set forth in W. Va. Code 48-10-502 weighed against visitation under the circumstances, and (2) the family court erred in failing to give special weight to her wishes concerning the care of the child. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case to the family court for further proceedings, holding that the circuit court erred in affirming the order of the family court because the family court failed to make specific findings of fact regarding the statutory grandparent visitation factors and failed to explain why Mother's interest in making decisions regarding the care of the child was outweighed by the child's interest in having a continuing relationship with Grandparents. View "Meagan S. v. Terry S." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the final order of the circuit court granting scheduled visitation with C.B., who was adopted by Petitioners when he was five years old, to Respondents, with whom C.B. lived before the adoption but to whom C.B. was not related, holding that Respondents did not have standing to petition the circuit court to modify their alleged post-adoption agreement and that such an agreement did not exist in this case. When Petitioner became C.B. guardian, the family court granted Respondents visitation with C.B. The visitation continued after the adoption, but after the parties quarreled, Petitioners reduced the visitation. Respondents subsequently petitioned for visitation. The circuit court granted the petition, relying on Respondents' pre-adoption relationship with the child and the child's best interests. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Petitioners' adoption of C.B. severed Respondents' visitation with the child; and (2) because the adoption order did not provide for visitation between Respondents and C.B., an agreement among the parties regarding post-adoption visitation did not exist. View "Murrell B. v. Clarence R." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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In this abuse and neglect case the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the circuit court's dispositional order placing three children in the legal and physical custody of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), holding that the circuit court erred by not terminating Mother's and Father's parental rights. Upon finding that Mother and Father were unable to adequately care for their three children the circuit court entered a final dispositional order placing the children in the custody of the DHHR. The guardian ad litem and DHHR appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred by not terminating the parents' parental rights. The parents also appealed, contending that the circuit court failed to comply with the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. 1901 to -1923. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the circuit court for entry of a dispositional order terminating Mother's and Father's parental rights, holding (1) there was no violation of the ICWA in this case; and (2) the best interests of the children required termination of Mother's and Father's parental rights pursuant to W. Va. Code 49-4-604(b)(6). View "In re N.R." on Justia Law

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In this abuse and neglect proceeding the Supreme Court reversed the dispositional order of the circuit court giving primary custody of two children to Father following his successful completion of an improvement period, holding that the circuit court failed to give proper consideration to the custodial, decision-making and limiting factors set forth in W. Va. Code 48-9-206, 207, and 209. In awarding primary custody to Father the circuit court found that the award was in the children's best interests based upon their preference to reside with Father and the court's conclusion that Father provided a more stable environment for the children. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the matter for consideration of the appropriate statutory factors, holding that the circuit court erred in deferring to the children's purported preference, as expressed by third parties, to reside with Father because the court failed to give due consideration to the factors set forth in section 48-9-206, 207, and 209 in making its custodial allocation. View "In re T.M." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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In this termination of parental rights proceeding the Supreme Court vacated the verbal ruling of the circuit court regarding Parents' rights to A.A. and affirmed the portions of the court's order terminating the parental rights to Z.A., S.A. and J.A.-2, holding that the court erred when it did not perform a best interests analysis with regard to the disposition of Parents' rights to A.A. and by failing to enter a dispositional order that addressed A.A. The circuit court terminated Parents' parental rights to Z.A, S.A., and J.A.-2 on the basis of physical and educational neglect. As to Parents' two other children, J.A.-1 and A.A., the circuit court made a verbal ruling to leave intact parents' rights but did so without having performed any analysis of these children's best interests. Further, the court failed to enter a dispositional order fo J.A.-1 and A.A. J.A.-1 reached the age of majority during the appeal period and was no longer a subject of the abuse and neglect case. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the circuit court's termination of parental rights as too Z.A., S.A., and J.A.-2, holding that there was no error on the part of the circuit court; but (2) vacated the ruling leaving intact parents' rights to A.A., holding that remand was required for further proceedings. View "In re J.A." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court that terminated Mother's parental rights to her infant son, J.C., holding that the circuit court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to terminate Mother's parental rights. After an adjudication hearing, the circuit court found that J.C. was neglected and deemed abandoned as an aggravating factor. A dispositional hearing was held and then continued. The hearing reconvened and then was continued a number of times due to Mother's failure to appear. Eventually, the circuit court entered an order terminating Mother's parental rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to resolve the abuse and neglect petition because there was no evidence to show that any of the subject matter requirements of W. Va. Code 48-20-201(a) were satisfied. View "In re J.C." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law