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Family court plan requires lawmakers' okay this year

April 19, 2001

Family court plan requires lawmakers' okay this year



At the end of every legislative session, there are matters that aren't acted on because time just runs out. But knowing that doesn't mute our disappointment over the West Virginia Legislature's failure to approve a family court system. The need is undeniable, which makes the fact that it's being sidetracked even more regrettable.

The move to create a new court that would handle all family-related issues, including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony and domestic violence petitions was approved last November, when citizens voted to amend the state's constitution.

But the constitutional amendment only permits the state to set up such a court; rules and procedures will have to be spelled out by the legislate.

Lawmakers attempted to do that during this session and were close to agreement on a bill, except for one important issue. Under one version, appeals from the family court system would go to the circuit courts. In another, they'd go to the state Supreme Court.

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The new court system would have 33 family law masters covering 24 court circuits within the state. If each circuit generates only 10 appeals per year, that's another 240 cases on the high court's plate. Until someone provides a convincing reason for us to believe otherwise, the circuit courts seem the best place to handle appeals.

Gov. Bob Wise said he would add the family court proposal to the special session if there was some indication there would be an agreement. So far this week, there's been no progress on that score.

It will be difficult to put this off until next year, for two reasons. The first is that beginning Sept. 1, the courts will begin transferring cases to the family law masters. And law masters who want to run for election in 2002 must file to do so next January.

Because of that, Senate Judiciary Chairman Bill Wooton, D-Raleigh, said the family court system may get a special session of its own later this year. Sooner would be better, but progress that comes after a delay is still progress.

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