Requests for action on child support swamp Berkeley County court

Some cases date back to 1980s

Some cases date back to 1980s

February 29, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The staff of the Berkeley County Circuit Court has been inundated with hundreds of requests in the last several days for legal action to be taken against county residents who owe child support, Circuit Clerk Virginia M. Sine said at Thursday's county commission meeting.

Sine said that the division of Department of Health and Human Resources had "dropped hundreds of writ of executions on us" when the circuit clerk's office only handled one or two a month before last week.

A writ of execution in West Virginia prevents a child support judgment against an individual from expiring, and state law requires the legal action be renewed within 10 years.

The requests were received en masse from the state's Bureau of Child Support Enforcement in Berkeley County.

Sine's deputy clerks said Thursday they had formed an assembly line to process a plastic crate stacked full of requests, including some referencing child support cases dating to the 1980s and amounting to thousands of dollars.


"It's a terrible burden on the circuit clerks," Susan Perry, commissioner of the state's Bureau of Child Support Enforcement, said Thursday afternoon in a telephone interview.

Perry couldn't explain why the requests began showing up at Sine's office when they did since state officials in October 2007 began directing the bureau's staff statewide to file the requests.

"We have clerk's offices flooded in other counties," Perry said. "This will continue on for a little while until we get caught up."

Before a September 2003 decision by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, Perry said state Bureau of Child Support Enforcement staff had been filing "income withholding notices" with employers, asking them to deduct wages for child support payments in place of a writ.

The state's high court decision in Shaffer v. Stanley and the DHHR's bureau eliminated that option, which Perry said was based on an interpretation of a previous court case.

Unlike West Virginia, Perry said neighboring states, including Maryland, Virginia and Ohio, as well as Washington D.C., do not have a statute of limitations, meaning the state's expectation of child support payments outlined in a court judgment never expires until it is paid.

When asked why West Virginia hasn't adopted a similar law, Perry said "good question," and noted that Del. Locke Wysong, D-Jefferson, previously introduced legislation to eliminate the burden of the state having to preserve the judgment, but the bill died.

The extra work for Sine's staff will be passed along to other county departments, including the sheriff's department, which will serve or execute the writ, and the county clerk's office, where abstracts of the paperwork also are kept.

With a hiring and overtime freeze in place, Sine said there are three vacancies (two part time), and two deputy clerks have been assigned to help County Clerk John W. Small Jr. with a records-scanning project.

Once the writs are issued by the clerk's office, they have to be served by a sheriff's department deputy within 90 days, Sheriff W. Randy Smith said Thursday.

"It's another unfunded mandate," Smith said. "I have to play the hand that I've been dealt ... we will get it done. We will survive."

The Herald-Mail Articles