Child Custody in WV: an Update of “The Maze”

This is a short update of my 2016 article,  “The Maze of Child Custody in WV”.

Just a summary and update.

  1. In WV the Family Court has primary jurisdiction of children’s issues, sharing of time, access to records, and decision making for married and unmarried parents.
  2. The appellate Court for Family Court, which also “shares jurisdiction”,  is the County Circuit Court which is the Court of general jurisdiction in the State.
  3. Custody cases between unmarried people, formerly “paternity suits”, are now “petitions for allocation of parental rights”.
  4. Custody cases between married people are part of the divorce process.
  5. Technically, we really aren’t supposed to be using the terms “custody” and visitation”; these cases are under the “rubric” of “shared parenting”, access to records, and decision making.
  6. Circuit Courts have Jurisdiction of “juvenile delinquency” and “juvenile abuse and neglect”. These cases have the county prosecuting attorney and the WV Dept of Health and Human Resources (Child Protective Services Division) as parties. The parent(s) and the juvenile usually have a court-appointed lawyer; only rarely to either have retained counsel.
  7. Circuits Courts have jurisdiction of adoption, which has its own rules and assumptions.
  8. Domestic Violence cases and juvenile cases begin in Magistrate Court but are heard by the Family Court and Circuit Court respectively.
  9. Matters pertaining to guardianship of children are largely in Circuit Court, but can be sent to family court, and may be heard by a commissioner. These are often “Grandparents Petitions”. The child in such cases may also have a guardian ad litem.
  10. There is a “Grandparents Visitation” statute. Such cases are heard by Family Court. I see them only rarely.
  11. The “update” is that there is a new “custody statute” that does not rely as heavily on the “caretaking functions percentages”as prior statutes relied on, and “the parental relocation statute” which used to require a “relocation notice” to be filed by the moving party now requires the filing by the moving parent of a “petition to modify parenting plan”. That’s a big deal, putting upon the moving party to sue instead of daring the non-moving party to sue.
  12. I didn’t try to make this complicated, but it is hard for a non-lawyer to absorb; thus my term, “The Maze” of custody in WV.
  13. Whether it is social unrest, racial or immigration issues, the drug epidemic, or our Pandemic, there is much stress on our custody courts as there is on our social services, educators, police, parents, and grandparents.
  14. It all makes for a very good reason not to dive into a custody or family law conflict without the aid of an experienced attorney.
  15. Hmmm? Where can you find one of those?

This post was written by Burton Hunter

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