The West Virginia House of Representatives reassigned its approval to resubmit Senate legislation to amend the state’s code of equal custody of children, save for judicial proven incidents of domestic violence or child abuse.
Applicable law provides that custody plans are created based on caregiver functions – those who spend the most time with a child have the most time after a divorce or separation.
House Bill 2363 exchanges this for the automatic presumption of 50:50 imprisonment in the creation of a “Best Interests of the Child Protection Act of 2021”.
“These are loving parents who want to be involved in the child’s life,” Del said. Geoff Foster, R-Putnam. “They ask about it, and the problem is that our family court system, our judicial system, is preventing it.”
Foster, the law’s main sponsor, also made equal custody laws in 2020. That law failed in the Senate last year.
On Monday, Foster repeatedly referred to studies by the American custody psychologist Richard Warshak, which, according to Foster, advocated equal parenting. Before the law was passed by the House Judiciary Committee in February, some delegates questioned whether this was the correct insight from Warshak’s work.
Foster also relied heavily on data from Kentucky, which passed an equal custody bill several years ago.
“They didn’t pick it up so they obviously didn’t have any problems,” said Foster.
Reports of domestic violence in Kentucky have decreased since the law was passed about four years ago. This is based on data shared by Foster on the floor of the house.
Katie Spriggs, a member of the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said this was not a good thing. In fact, Spriggs said that it is likely evidence that victims are uncomfortable coming up.
“Domestic violence is often under-reported or underreported for a variety of reasons – fear of the perpetrator, economic control, fear of community judgment,” Spriggs said.
Spriggs is the executive director of the Eastern Panhandle Empowerment Center and has worked with domestic violence survivors for nearly a decade.
“If anything, this will deter survivors from leaving the country as they – under 50-50 detention – would face their children unsupervised by someone who harmed them,” Spriggs said.
The bill provides for “extenuating circumstances,” as Foster said in the House, such as domestic violence or child abuse. However, the legislation also requires parents to prove these circumstances in a mandatory hearing before a judge with lawyers, witnesses and cross-negotiations.
Legislation also provides for derogation from parental equality when one parent is actively using illegal drugs and often leaves a child in the care of another “while doing their own thing” or when they have been convicted of child molestation in the past five years .
Parents can agree to deviate from perfect 50:50 custody, but legislation says plans should be as close to 65-35 as possible.
When questioned Monday, Foster said he didn’t think the bill would affect a child’s public benefits like Medicaid or SNAP, nor a parent’s ability to claim a child as “tax-dependent”.
The bill does not refer to child benefit.
Del. Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, argued that a “cookie cutter” solution would be of no use to children in West Virginia and that instead the bill puts the rights of parents above the stability of a child.
Del. Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, opposed the bill on Monday for similar reasons. Walker also told lawmakers that the bill and the discourse on it missed an important point: the best interests of the child.
“I’ve listened to the discrimination and the prejudice that this is a ‘crazy father’s bill’,” Walker said. “Disgusting to anyone who said that. I heard that this was a bill for women who were despised, who were insane, who didn’t know how to let go. This is even more disgusting because all of these statements, all of these calls I received had nothing to do with protecting the doggone child. ”
Walker and Fleischauer were among the 31 lawmakers who spoke out against the legislation, and 68 voted in favor on Monday afternoon.
The bill goes to the Senate.
Emily Allen is a member of the Report for America Corps.
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