Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's order terminating Father's parental rights and remanded the matter for a new dispositional hearing, holding that the circuit court erred in granting multiple extensions to the pre-adjudicatory improvement period, and the court's factual determinations were clearly erroneous and contrary to the record. After his three minor children were removed from his home, Father was granted a pre-adjudicatory improvement period starting on September 14, 2016. Over the next two years, the circuit court granted extensions to the pre-adjudicatory improvement period. Father was not adjudicated until November 23, 2018. On June 3, 2019, the circuit court terminated Father's parental rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the court erroneously granted several extensions to the pre-adjudicatory improvement period, in violation of time limits set forth by W. Va. Code 49-4-610(1) and 49-4-610(9); and (2) the circuit court's findings relating to the substantive allegations upon which Father's parental rights were terminated were clearly erroneous. View "In re A.T." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court affirming a family court order dismissing a petition seeking genetic testing to establish paternity and allocate custodial responsibility filed by Petitioner, holding that the circuit court erred by affirming the family court's ruling that Petitioner lacked standing to initiate a paternity action. Following a hearing, the family court issued an order directing paternity testing. Prior to genetic testing, Respondents were granted a writ of prohibition prohibiting enforcement of the family court's order, finding that Petitioner lacked standing to initiate the paternity action. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a petition by a putative biological father seeking to establish his paternity over a child who was born while the mother was married to another man satisfies the "special circumstances" exception in State ex rel. Roy Allen S. v. Stone, 474 S.E.2d 554 (W. Va. 1996), if certain conditions are met; and (2) under the narrow and specific facts of this case Petitioner had standing to pursue his paternity action. View "Michael N. v. Brandy M." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court that permanently placed a minor child with Foster Parents instead of a grandparent, holding that the circuit court erred by not adhering to the grandparent preference in this case. On appeal, Paternal Grandfather and Maternal Grandmother argued that the circuit court erroneously disregarded the statutory grandparent preference under W. Va. Code 49-4-114(a)(3) by placing the child with the Foster Parents because Parental Grandfather was a fit caretaker, bureaucratic delays caused the child to remain with the Foster Parents for an extended period of time while waiting for Paternal Grandfather's home study to be completed, and placement with Paternal Grandfather was in the child's best interest. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed the circuit court's order, holding (1) Paternal Grandfather was fit to care for the child and that placing the child with Paternal Grandfather was in the child's best interest; and (2) therefore, the circuit court erred in placing the child with the Foster Parents. View "In re J.P." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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In this abuse and neglect proceeding initiated against Mother for three minor children the Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition sought by the minor children's guardian ad litem (GAL) seeking an order prohibiting the circuit court from granting a post-dispositional improvement period to Mother, holding that the circuit court erred in granting the improvement period in this case. The GAL argued that the improvement period was improperly granted because the children had been in foster care for more than fifteen of the most recent twenty-two months. The Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition, holding that the circuit court committed clear error of law in granting an improvement period that exceeded the time limits on foster care imposed by W. Va. Code 49-4-610(9) 49-4-610(9) without sufficient findings that the grant of this improvement period was in the best interest of the children. View "State ex rel. S.W. v. Honorable Wilson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the circuit court denying Father's request to terminate the guardianship of Respondents, holding that the circuit court erred by requiring Father to demonstrate a material change of circumstances in order to terminate the existing guardianship. As a result of Mother's incarceration, Guardians, who were Mother's parents, filed a petition to be appointed guardians of the child in this case. The circuit court granted the guardianship. Father subsequently filed a motion to terminate Guardians' guardianship, asserting that a change of circumstances had occurred because Father had shown that he was a fit parent and could provide the proper care and stability for the child. The circuit court denied Father's petition on grounds that Father had not demonstrated a material change of circumstances. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, holding (1) because the circuit court's guardianship order did not sufficiently address the statutory factors required for the appointment of a guardian, the order must be treated as one establishing a temporary guardianship; and (2) the court applied the wrong burden of proof to Father's request to terminate the guardianship. View "Terrence E. v. Christopher R." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the final order of the circuit court affirming the family court's order denying Mother's motion to relocate to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with her two children and designating Father as the children's primary residential parent, holding that not only did the family court erroneously rely upon a single factor in its analysis of the children's best interests, but its conclusion as to that factor was not supported by the record. The family court denied Mother's motion to relocate the children to Myrtle Beach, designated Father as the primary residential parent, and adjusted child support obligations accordingly. On appeal, Mother argued that the family court failed to conduct a proper analysis of the children's best interests for purposes of determining where they should reside following her relocation. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the family court's order contained insufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law to support its determination that it was in the best interests of the children to reside primarily with Father and that the family court should have undertaken an assessment of the custodial responsibility each parent was undertaking to determine which statutory principle to apply under W. Va. 48-9-403(d). View "Stacey J. v. Henry A." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the final order of the circuit court upholding the decision of the family court to deny Father's petition for modification of custodial responsibility, holding that the lower courts erred in failing to perform the required best interest analysis and in failing to provide specific findings with respect to the best interest of the parties' child. In his petition, which was based on the allocation of decision-making responsibilities under W. Va. Code 48-9-20, Father sought an order awarding him sole decision-making responsibility pertaining to medical and educational matters for the child. The family court denied the petition and ordered joint decision-making responsibility. The circuit court upheld the order. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the lower courts used the wrong standard when denying Father's petition for allocation of decision-making responsibility; and (2) the lower courts erroneously failed to perform the requisite analysis of the child's best interests and failed to provide specific findings with respect to the child's best interest. View "Benton B. v. Cassidy T." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court affirming the family court's order denying Michael Campbell's motion to modify his spousal support obligation to his former wife, Joanna Campbell, holding that the family court erred by denying Michael's petition to modify his spousal support award and that the circuit court erred by affirming the family court's ruling. On appeal, Michael argued that he was entitled to modification of his alimony obligation because his current monthly spousal support obligation was greater than his currently monthly retirement income and that the lower courts erred by refusing to modify his spousal support obligation to an amount commensurate with his ability to pay. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the lower courts erred by refusing to grant Michael's modification petition. View "Campbell v. Campbell" on Justia Law

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