Senate Judiciary Removes 50-50 Custody From ‘Finest Pursuits Of The Youngster Safety Act’

West Virginia Senators removed the 50-50 presumption of custody from a bill passed in the House of Delegates a month ago, as well as a provision to reinstate closed child custody cases where parents were not considered for the same time .

With amendments made by the Senate Judiciary Committee late Wednesday night, House Bill 2363, dubbed “Best Interests of the 2021 Child Protection Act,” continues to advocate “frequent and prolonged contact with both parents” in the event of divorce or any type of separation other than “im best interests of the child “be.

But instead of starting by giving each parent 50 percent of a child’s time, the committee agreed that House Bill 2363 should give family judges more leeway.

If a judge decides that a parent should have more than 65 percent of a child’s time or less than 35 percent, they can make that decision as long as it is made in writing and with evidence.

The draft law gives the judges some new points that must be taken into account when drawing up joint custody plans – this includes not only the functions of “care” but also the consideration of “parenting functions”.

Care functions are those that address the immediate physical needs of a child, e.g. B. changing a diaper, bathing or feeding a child. The “parenting” functions encompass the less obvious options a parent can offer a child, such as: B. Work, housing and transportation.

Legislature considered House Bill 2363 and those changes late Wednesday evening and early Thursday morning and finally adjourned just before 2 a.m.

They took nearly two and a half hours of testimony from parents in West Virginia, domestic violence attorneys, a family court judge, and Del. Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, the main sponsor of the original bill.

“I don’t particularly like the strike-and-insert the way it came out,” said Foster, referring to the Senate changes to its bill.

Foster said he believed 50-50 was “the fairest place to start” for parents. However, he also said the Senate version of the law would improve the existing law.

The Senate version will not reopen closed custody cases

All four parents who testified before the committee asked the senators to reject the proposed changes and instead pass the house version of the bill.

These parents – three fathers and one mother who all said they passed the West Virginia family court system – told Senators that the current law does not suit parents who work full-time, nor is it a priority to keep half-siblings together.

“The bottom line is this bill is the only chance I have to spend more time with my children,” said Andrew Tennant of Morgantown.

Tennant called on the committee to reject the changes because he was in favor of a provision in the bill that the House had passed that would have allowed him to reopen his case once the law had changed.

Currently, parents can reopen their cases if the child’s or a parent’s circumstances “have changed significantly”. The Senate Judiciary’s version is that when this legislation becomes law, it is not considered a change in circumstances.

Tennant, who told senators he was an active member of the U.S. Army, agreed to take less than 30 percent into custody in 2018 because he was stationed in Texas. But now that he’s back in West Virginia, living about half an hour from his children, he hasn’t been able to petition the courts for a new joint custody plan.

“That is not right. It’s not fair, ”said Tennant. “I haven’t done anything. My kids didn’t do anything to deserve this. “

“Even the best-intentioned parents” struggle with 50-50, says the judge

Deanna Rock, a family court judge in the Mineral County area, told the committee that an average of 36,000 family court cases are filed in West Virginia each year, each with their own facts and stories.

Rock supported the Senate amendment because it offered less of a “one size fits all” solution to a problem that many parents are frustrated with.

“Even the best-intentioned parents sometimes just can’t make it,” Rock said of 50:50 custody. “It’s a difficult thing.”

Samuel White of the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence also approved Senate amendments to House Bill 2363.

White said the version of the bill that the House passed created “a single solution to a much more complex problem”.

He also said the legislation the House passed forced domestic violence victims to prove in court that they were abused in order to obtain a plan that is not 50-50 in custody – under applicable law the victims according to White fail to prove they were abused in court to secure all or part of the custody of their child.

“I’ll say the strike-and-insert is an improvement as it allows the court to continue to focus on the best interests of the children in the case,” White said. “It allows the judge who has the parties before him to be the person who makes that decision.”

Although the testimony took hours and the senators put several questions to most of the witnesses, there was no debate about the bill. The legislation is now before the entire Senate for examination.

Emily Allen is a member of the Report for America Corps.

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