Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Family Law
In re Z.S.-1
The Supreme Court vacated the order of the circuit court terminating the parental rights of Father and Mother two their two minor children, holding that numerous procedural errors substantially affected the integrity of the underlying proceedings.On appeal, Mother and Father argued that the circuit court erred by terminating their parental rights in its dispositional order. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the circuit court properly adjudicated the children and the parents in the underlying abuse and neglect proceedings. The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court's order, holding (1) the circuit court erred in adjudicating Z.S.-1 as a neglected child and Mother and Father as neglectful parents based upon the parents' defective stipulations; and (2) because the circuit court could not locate any definitive adjudication of Z.S.-2 as an abused and/or neglected child or of Mother or Father as abusive and/or neglectful of Z.S.2 the circuit court's dispositional order as to Z.S.-2 must be vacated. View "In re Z.S.-1" on Justia Law
In re N.W.
In these consolidated abuse and neglect appeals the Supreme Court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction Mother's appeal and affirmed the judgment of the circuit court terminating Father's parental rights to baby N.W., holding that there was no reason to disturb the circuit court's judgment.After a hearing, the circuit court terminated the parental rights of Mother and Father to N.W., concluding that there was no reasonable likelihood that the conditions of abuse or neglect could be substantially corrected. N.W. was subsequently adopted, and the court denied Petitioners' motion for post-termination visitation. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal brought by Mother and affirmed the circuit court's order terminating Father's parental rights, holding (1) Mother's appeal presented an issue that was not ripe, divesting this Court of jurisdiction; and (2) the circuit court did not err in terminating Father's parental rights. View "In re N.W." on Justia Law
In re B.P.
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court adjudicating Petitioner as a neglectful parent because of his failure to provide for B.P.'s basic needs due to Petitioner's absence from her life as a result of his incarceration, holding that the circuit court did not base its adjudication of Petitioner on drug use.On appeal, Petitioner challenged the termination of his parental rights based on what he argued was the circuit court's improper adjudication for drug use. The Supreme Court denied relief, holding (1) there was no merit to Petitioner's argument that he was improperly adjudicated based upon alleged drug use; (2) a parent's absence from a child's life because of incarceration that results in the inability of the parent to provide for their children's basic needs is a form of neglect under the definition of "neglected child" set forth in W. Va. Code 49-1-201; and (3) the circuit court appropriately considered all of the factors in adjudicating Petitioner as a neglectful parent. View "In re B.P." on Justia Law
In re C.L.
The Supreme Court vacated the dispositional orders of the circuit court terminating Father's parental rights to his four children, holding that the circuit court erroneously failed to follow the process established by the West Virginia Rules of Procedure for Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings and related statutes.The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) filed a petition alleging abuse and neglect after Petitioner was seen living out of a car with two of his children and their mother. In an amended petition, DHHR added Father's two other children, despite the fact that the children had not seen Father for years and lived with a different mother. The circuit court ultimately terminated Father's parental rights to all four children - two on the basis of abandonment and two because of inadequate housing. The Supreme Court vacated the dispositional orders, holding that remand was required for further proceedings because the circuit court clearly erred by failing to follow the West Virginia Rules of Procedure for Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings and related statutes. View "In re C.L." on Justia Law
In re Adoption of R.L.
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court denying the petition brought by Petitioners, Mother and Stepfather, to allow Stepfather to adopt R.L., a minor child, holding that W. Va. Code 48-22-306(a) does not preclude a finding of abandonment in a case where the birth parent has the ability to ascertain the child's whereabouts during the relevant time frame but willfully fails to do so.Because Respondent Father contested R.L.'s adoption the circuit court was require to analyze whether Father abandoned the child under section 48-22-306. The circuit court denied the adoption petition, concluding that Father did not abandon R.L. because (1) section 48-22-306(a)(2) permits a finding of abandonment only where the parent "fails to visit or otherwise communicate with the child when [he] knows where the child resides"; and (2) Father did not know where R.L. resided at the time the adoption petition was filed or in the preceding six months. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded this case for further proceedings, holding that the circuit court erred in concluding that it was precluding from finding abandonment because Father did not know where R.L. resided without any consideration as to whether Father could have ascertained that information. View "In re Adoption of R.L." on Justia Law
Jennifer W. v. Michael W.
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court affirming the judgment of the family court awarding Jennifer W. $10,000 of spousal support, payable over twelve months, holding that the family court's award of spousal support in gross was error.Jennifer filed for divorce from her husband Michael W. after nearly nineteen years of marriage. The family court entered an order awarding "spousal support in gross" of $10,000. Jennifer appealed, arguing that the family court abused its discretion by awarding "lump sum" alimony instead of permanent spousal support. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed, holding that the in gross award was clearly inadequate and constituted an abuse of discretion. View "Jennifer W. v. Michael W." on Justia Law
In re S.C.
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court dismissing the underlying abuse and neglect petition against Father and remanded for the circuit court to adjudicate him as a neglectful parent, holding that the circuit court erred in dismissing the abuse and neglect petition.As to the merits of the underlying abuse and neglect allegations, the circuit court denied adjudication, concluding that a prior decision by the Court dictated its decision. The court then "reluctantly" ordered that the State return the child to Father despite his methamphetamine use. The child's guardian ad litem appealed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for the circuit court to adjudicate Father as a neglectful parent, holding that the case that the circuit court relied on was materially distinguishable from this case and that a parent threatens his child's well-being when he chronically abuses methamphetamine while entrusted as the child's custodian. View "In re S.C." on Justia Law
State ex rel. Del. Tribe of Indians v. Honorable Nowicki-Eldridge
The Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition precluding the circuit court from enforcing its September 30, 2022 order denying the Delaware Tribe of Indians' motion to transfer the underlying abuse and neglect proceedings to the District Court of the Delaware Tribe pursuant to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. 1901 to -1963, holding that the circuit court erred in denying the motion to transfer this action to the tribal court.The Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) filed a second amended abuse and neglect petition alleging that Father abandoned I.R. Father, who claimed to be a member of the Tribe, later indicated his desire to voluntarily relinquish his parental rights. The Tribe successfully moved to intervene in the proceedings, after which the court concluded that the ICWA was not applicable to these proceedings. The court thus denied the Tribe's motion to transfer this action to the tribal court. This petition seeking a writ of prohibition followed. The Supreme Court granted the writ, holding that the circuit court (1) erred in determining that the ICWA was inapplicable to this case; and (2) clearly erred in determining that good cause existed to deny transfer of this matter to the tribal court. View "State ex rel. Del. Tribe of Indians v. Honorable Nowicki-Eldridge" on Justia Law
In re A.T.-1
The Supreme Court vacated the order of the circuit court terminating the parental rights of Mother and Father after issuing a ruling adjudicating them as abusive and neglectful, holding that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction.The conduct leading to the subject abuse and neglect petition occurred while a Pennsylvania family was at a relative's home in West Virginia. The circuit court exercised temporary emergency jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act and temporarily removed the children from the care of their parents. The circuit court adjudicated Parents as abusive and neglectful before contacting Parents' home state of Pennsylvania about jurisdiction. The circuit court entered the adjudicatory order after Pennsylvania declined jurisdiction. The court then entered its order terminating Parents' parental rights. The Supreme Court vacated the order, holding that the limitations of the circuit court's temporary emergency jurisdiction did not permit it to entertain an adjudication of the abuse and neglect petition unless and until Pennsylvania declined jurisdiction. View "In re A.T.-1" on Justia Law
In re G.G.
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court denying Petitioners' motion to intervene in this abuse and neglect case involving their niece, G.G., holding that the circuit court did not err in denying the motion.The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources instituted an abuse and neglect proceeding against G.G.'s mother and father. Ultimately, G.G.'s biological father voluntarily relinquished his parental rights, and G.G.'s mother's parental rights were involuntarily terminated after a hearing. Thereafter, Respondents, G.G.'s foster parents, filed a motion to intervene in the abuse and neglect proceedings seeking to adopt G.G. Petitioners then filed their motion to intervene, seeking permanent placement of G.G. The circuit court granted Respondents' motion and denied Petitioners' motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was no basis to set aside the circuit court's determination. View "In re G.G." on Justia Law