A Pending WV Family Law Catastrophe
This is the letter I wrote today to WV Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Trump and copied to the entire Senate.
Please consider writing to your senator and delegate and as them NOT to vote for this terrible bill.
Dear Chairman Trump:
- I am writing you and copying House Chairman Capito and all other West Virginia senators and delegates because you and I have partnered in the passage of two of the most important West Virginia family laws in history. I beg you now for your help!
- ore recently, five years ago, you, and House Judiciary Chair, John Shott, came to the aid of West Virginia families by co-sponsoring, “The West Virginia Family Law Restraining Order Law”. I was privileged to be co-author, with West Virginia attorney Thomas O’Neill, then counsel for the Senate Judiciary committee, of this important bill at a time our West Virginia Supreme Court had made a ruling which, in effect, said that West Virginia family courts could not maintain order and restrain outrageous behavior unless it rose to the level of domestic violence. It was a terrible ruling, but we fixed it!
- Here is the story of that bill: WV Senate Bill 430 – The Law That No One Heard Of – Attorney J. Burton Hunter III : Attorney J. Burton Hunter III (hunterlawfirm.net)
- Against long odds, that bill passed from each Judiciary committee without a negative vote, passed each chamber without a negative vote, and was signed by Gov. Justice.
- Such bad behavior is often a precursor of domestic violence, so I know you agree with me that we saved West Virginia families from experiencing much violence and even death, while keeping many people from suffering the stigma of a domestic violence finding.
- 20 years earlier, I suggested to my dear friend, and your colleague, Upshur County Delegate Dale Riggs, that we model a West Virginia statute on California’s new “Stalking Law”. When West Virginia State Bar Family Law Committee Chair Lyne Ranson, Charleston attorney Rusty Webb, and I met with you to discuss our bill, you shared with us that you and Dale Riggs, who was Lyne’s uncle, collaborated in the passage of that law, which I also has saved lives.
- Now there is pending before your committee, or before the legislature, an abomination of a family law bill amending Chapter 48. As you may recall, I have practiced family law and trial law in West Virginia for 44 years after serving as a member of the USAF JAG Corps for four years.
- I have represented litigants in thousands of family law cases with approximately a dozen fatalities, eight suicides and four homicides that touched my practice, and many threats.
- Family courts and Family Court litigators and Family Court litigants are being crushed by the drug crisis and the pandemic. Good lawyers are “dropping like flies”.
- One solace is the option of family law mediation, where parents can negotiate parenting plans and property settlement agreements based on the concept of “best interests of the child”.
- I represent an equal number of men and women. I am in court dozens of times a year.
- Here is an assessment, slightly paraphrased, of the pending litigation by a dedicated family law attorney and mediator who fights for the children rather than a gender-based, or a radical conservative, philosophy.
- That lawyer\mediator stated:
It’s beyond the typical “man-scorned” bill. It hamstrings Judges from using discretion when the “rebuttable presumption” can be overcome. It prohibits hearings by proffer. It modifies (the already modified this session) relocation statute to make it near impossible to relocate. It allows anyone who has a less than 50/50 plan to petition to modify to a 50/50. It allows third-parties to seek custody. At the committee meeting they said the expectation is that all temporary orders will result in a 50/50 parenting plan.
Someone also posed the question as to what the expectation would be if someone (a man) abandons his children then comes back and petitions to modify….yep…50/50.
It will totally inhibit parties from reaching agreements in mediation. It will also result in more “abuse and neglect” petitions on the grounds of abandonment which are not typically filed now if there is a parent properly caring for the children.
It is just not well-thought-out. It impacts many other code sections. It does not promote proper co-parenting. It promotes nasty litigation.
They need to change the name because it is most definitely, “Not a Best Interests of the Child bill.”
- Senator Trump, I am a father of four and a grandfather of six. I assure you, especially if you likewise are a parent and/or grandparent, that every person who votes for this bill must realize that they are condemning thousands of children, for the foreseeable future, to grief, conflict, hardship, violence, bitterness, hatred, and conflict in their lives that a more enlightened bill, or just keeping the flawed bill we have, (which actually sort of works), could help to avoid.
- Please set aside partisanship or misguided and wrong-headed “father’s rights” or “grandparents rights” concepts and focus on something like bringing West Virginia out of its deep, dark, depression.
- The two bills I mentioned above are part of your legacy as a West Virginia delegate and Senator.
- If you permit or, God Forbid, promote the passage of this bill, that legacy will be tarnished forever.
Yours very truly:
J. Burton Hunter III
This post was written by Burton Hunter