Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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The Supreme Court vacated the written dispositional orders entered by the circuit court terminating Mother's parental rights to her two children, holding that the dispositional orders failed to include findings of fact and conclusions of law necessary to support the termination of parental rights.The Department of Health and Human Resources filed a motion alleging that the termination of Mother's parental rights was required by W. Va. Code 49-4-605(a)(1) because the children had been in foster care for more than fifteen of the most recent twenty-two months. The Supreme Court vacated the orders below and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that the circuit court (1) erroneously entered written dispositional orders that contained none of the findings required by W. Va. Code 49-4-604(c)(6) for termination of parental rights; and (2) lacked subject matter jurisdiction to terminate Mother's parental rights. View "In re C.S." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Petitioners' motion to intervene in the underlying child abuse and neglect proceedings and reunifying the child with Mother, holding that there was no error.Petitioners, the foster parents of the two children in this case, moved to intervene in the underlying proceedings, but the circuit court denied intervention. The court then ordered that the child be reunified with Mother. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court properly denied Petitioners' motion to intervene in the underlying child abuse and neglect proceedings. View "In re H.W." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the circuit court dismissing the underlying abuse and neglect petition, holding that the circuit court's conduct during in camera interview of the children violated the West Virginia Rules of Procedure for Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings, the West Virginia Rules of Evidence, and Supreme Court precedent.The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources filed an abuse of neglect petition alleging that two minor children may have been sexually abused by Father. During the adjudicatory hearing, the circuit court conducted in camera interview of the children and accused the children of lying. The guardian ad litem for the children was present and failed to object to the court's conduct. Thereafter, the circuit court dismissed the abuse and neglect petition. The Supreme Court vacated the order below and remanded the matter for further proceedings before a different circuit judge with a new guardian ad litem, holding (1) the circuit court substantially disregarded and frustrated the procedures established by the relevant rules; and (2) the guardian ad litem's representation of the children was deficient. View "In re K.B.-R" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court affirming the family court's order setting aside a Mediated Settlement Agreement (MSA) between Petitioner and Respondent on the grounds that it was enforceable because there was no meeting of the minds, holding that there was no error.Petitioner filed for divorce from Respondent on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. The parties participated in mediation and entered into the MSA that gave rise to this action. After a hearing, the family court concluded that the parties did not have a "meeting of the minds" in reaching the MSA and determined that the entirety of the MSA was unenforceable. The circuit court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the lower tribunals did not err in finding that the MSA was invalid. View "Donna S. v. Travis S." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's order denying Father's motion to discharge his child support arrearage, holding that the circuit court did not err or abuse its discretion.After the parents of K.S. separated Father was ordered to pay mother child support. Ten years later, K.S. was removed from Mother's home due to a child abuse and neglect petition and placed in Father's custody. When Father took custody the circuit court suspended Father's child support obligation. Father, however, owed almost $25,000 in past unpaid child support and interest. Father filed a motion to discharge the child support arrearage, which the circuit court denied. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court properly found that it was prohibited from retroactively modifying or canceling child support awards except in limited circumstances not present in this case. View "In re K.S." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition sought to prevent the enforcement of an order of the circuit court that granted the motion filed by Respondents, the maternal grandparents of R.L., for the temporary placement of R.L. in their home, holding that Petitioners, R.L.'s foster parents, established that they were entitled to the writ.After the parental rights of R.L.'s parents were terminated R.L. was placed with Petitioners. The circuit court granted Respondents' motion for temporary placement of R.L., finding that his best interests would be served by achieving permanency through adoption by them. Petitioners sought a writ of mandamus. The Supreme Court granted the writ, holding that the circuit court exceeded its legitimate powers and committed clear error as a matter of law by ordering R.L. to be placed with Respondents. View "State ex rel., D.B. v. Honorable Thomas A. Bedell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the family court denying Father's motion seeking to modify a parenting plan for his daughter, E.M., due to substantial changes in circumstances and awarding attorney fees to Mother, holding that the family court's finding of no substantial change in circumstances was clearly erroneous.When E.M. was two years old, Father and Mother signed an agreed parenting plan. Three years later, Mother filed a petition to modify the parenting plan, alleging that the circumstances had substantially changed due to his job change, Mother's joining the workforce and E.M.'s enrollment in kindergarten. The family court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the family court committed clear error when it found that there was no substantial change in circumstances. View "Jared M. v. Molly A." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Petitioner's motion to transfer custody of A.A. to her upon finding that the transfer would not be in A.A.'s best interest, holding that there was no error.A.A. was temporarily removed from a hotel room after her father was arrested for unlawful possession of firearms. Petitioner, A.A.'s paternal grandmother, declined to take custody of the A.A. and so the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources placed A.A. with Respondents, foster parents. After the proceedings began, Petitioner intervened and filed a motion to transfer custody of the child to her. The circuit court denied the petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court appropriately exercised jurisdiction in this matter; and (2) Petitioner's remaining assignments of error were without merit. View "In re A.A." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court's dispositional order terminating Mother's parental rights to her three minor children, holding that the court erred in terminating Mother's parental rights in the absence of any evidence being presented by the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) at the dispositional hearing.Upon evidence that Mother was abusing methamphetamines Mother's three children were removed from her care and placed with their respective biological fathers. After stipulating to abuse and/or neglect and embarking upon post-adjudicatory and dispositional improvement periods Mother twice relapsed. Despite the prosecutor's failure to present any evidence on DHHR's behalf at the dispositional hearing, the circuit court terminated Mother's parental rights. The Supreme Court held that the circuit court’s dispositional order must be vacated due to DHHR’s failure to introduce evidence in support of termination. View "In re K.S." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court granting Respondent's petition to adopt H.G., holding that there was insufficient to show that the court abused its discretion in granting the petition for adoption.When she filed her petition to adopt H.G., Respondent had been H.G.'s primary caretaker for seven years and his legal guardian for three years, and had had sole discretion regarding visitation with the child for one year. Petitioner, the child's birth mother, opposed the adoption. After a hearing, the circuit court granted the petition on the grounds that Petitioner had abandoned the child. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in concluding (1) involuntary wage garnishment in 2019 did not constitute financial support; and (2) Petitioner failed to visit or communicate with the child for at least six months preceding the petition. View "In re Adoption of H.G." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law