CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Supreme Court began its 2019 fall term Wednesday by hearing a handful of cases during oral arguments including the appeal of a visitation order by the biological grandparents of a now 11-year-old grandson who they adopted in 2014.
The case styled M.B., et al. v. C.R., et al., because the boy is a juvenile, was argued for nearly an hour before the Court’s five justices Wednesday morning.
The boy’s aunt was originally appointed as his guardian because of the biological mother’s substance abuse issues but life circumstances also made it difficult for the aunt to care for the child. The aunt then asked her in-laws to take care of the boy and they did for four years.
According to court records, the boy’s biological father found out the boy was his not long after he was born. He sought custody within nine months of the boy’s birth and his parents, the boy’s biological grandparents, were able to gain visitation rights in less than a year.
The biological grandparents eventually filed for guardianship followed by adoption and were successful. They allowed the initial couple to keep informal visitation but at some point there were problems with that agreement. The first parents then went to circuit court claiming they were the boy’s psychological parents and he would be harmed unless he was able to continue to visit them. A lower court judge agreed with a recommendation of a guardian ad litem. The adoptive parents have appealed that order, which includes comprehensive visitation rights, to the Supreme Court.
Charleston attorney Ancil Ramey representatives the adoptive parents. He told the Court Wednesday state law is on the side of the adoptive parents.
“Once there’s an adoption, all of those preexisting relationships are severed. That child for all purposes, including visitation, that they can grant as a matter of grace and they can withdraw as a matter of grace, are in those adoptive parents,” Ramey said.
Ramey said the initial parents made a motion for visitation but had no standing to do so. Ramey detailed for the Court the visitation the lower court judge ordered for them after agreeing they were the boy’s psychological parents.
“Once a week for four hours on Mondays during the school year, phone calls every Tuesday and Sunday evenings, Thanksgiving break, Christmas break, Martin Luther King, Jr weekend, half of Spring Break, one week in June and one week in July,” Ramey said.
Attorney Laura Kiser, who represents the initial parents, said once the informal visitation agreement ran into problems following the adoption and her clients wanted to continue the relationship for the boy’s sake.
“The visitation isn’t working anymore, we need to find a solution so that this child isn’t harmed,” Kiser told the Court.
Ramey said the lower court judge also erred when he didn’t allow his clients to put on evidence during the hearing on the visitation petition. He also said the guardian ad litem met with the initial parents for an hour at a library and decided to support their psychological parents claim. Ramey alleges the guardian at litem ended up acting like the co-counsel for the initial parents.
During Wednesday’s arguments, Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman wondered why the two sides couldn’t work something out.
“There’s an old saying, ‘You can’t have too many people to love a child,’ I don’t understand why grown-ups don’t work together,” Workman said.
Ramey said the adoptive parents, if they are successful in their appeal, are more than willing to come to an agreement with the other couple about visitation.
“I’ve told my clients this all along…if we prevail and get this behind us let’s try to work something out,” Ramey said.
The High Court is expected to issue a written opinion on the case later this year.