Following from Wheeling News-Register, February 17, 1999:

DOMESTIC RELATIONS BILL TAKES FIRST STEP

   CHARLESTON, WV (AP) - A proposed family court system is a misnomer
because it would really be a divorce court, says a delegate who
unsuccessfully tried to expand its jurisdiction.
   Delegate Larry Rowe on Monday tried to get the House Judiciary Committee
to allow proposed family law judges to consider child abuse and elder abuse
cases now heard by circuit judges.
   The bill the committee endorsed calls for family court judges to hear
child support, child custody, visitation, paternity, alimony and final
hearings on petitions for domestic violence orders.   Family court judges
also could find people in contempt of court.
   The bill would replace the state's 14 full-time and 13 part-time law
masters with 35 full-time family court judges.  "It is now a family court in
name only.  It is only a divorce court," said Rowe, D-Kanawha.
    But Delegate Rusty Webb, R-Kanawha, said if the workload was increased,
the new system develop the same backlogs and delays now facing family law
masters.  Delegate Arley Johnson said the family court's jurisdiction could
be expanded if a constitutional amendment passes in 2000.  "I see what we're
doing here as an experiment.  We hope it's a good .  Right now we don't know
if it will work," said Johnson, D-Cabell.
   Lawmakers say they are trying to structure the family court so it could
be easily separated from the circuit courts if voters approve a
constitutional amendment in 2000.  The amendment would allow the Legislature
to set up a separate court system with elected family court judges.  Voters
rejected such an amendment in November.
   In the meantime, family court judge applicants would be screened by a
citizen panel.  Panelists would have backgrounds in domestic law or family
counseling.  Circuit judges would appoint the family court judges from a
list prepared by the panel.  No more than three of the panel's five members
could be from the same political party.  Law masters are now appointed by
the governor.
   The bill also would establish a three-judge panel to hear complaints
about family court judges.  The provision was added in response to
complaints that law masters are not accountable to the public.  Decisions
could be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
   To pay for the new expanded system, the bill would raise several court
fees.   It would increase the marriage license fee from $23 to $50; the
filing fee for any type of civil case also would increase from $75 to $125
and the fee for petitions to appoint guardians and conservators would go
from $70 to $125.  The bill also would impose a first-ever fee of $50 on
petitions filed to modify child support, child custody, visitation or
alimony.  Critics have said the current system alows people unlimited,
lifetime access to the courts when they pay a one-time divorce filing fee.
The fees would raise about $4 million of the $5 million needed to operate
the new system, according to the committee's staff.
   The bill, which does not yet have a number, was sent to the House Finance
Committee.  House and Senate judiciary subcommittees plan to meet this week
to work on other domestic relations laws.
END
Joe Cumblidge
4F/Fathers Fighting For Fairness/West Virginia
http://members.tripod.com/~JoeCumblidge/Fathers.html




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