Senate Judiciary advances different version of child custody bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill addressing child custody in West Virginia was pending in the state Senate in the closing days of the 2021 Regular Legislative Session.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the legislation with a strike-and-insert amendment making some significant changes to HB 2363 during a meeting that started late Wednesday and continued into early Thursday morning.

In part, the amended version of the bill sets a minimum of 35 percent for parental custody.

Family Court Judge Deanna Rock, a family court judge in the 23rd Family Court Circuit which includes Mineral County, Hampshire County and Morgan County, said the Senate bill “left judicial discretion intact.”

“This bill, the strike-and-insert, gives the judges more to consider when they’re weighing out the factual elements, as far as the caretaking plans and now the parenting functions,” Judge Rock said.

“Just as important as it is to change a child’s diaper, let’s say, it’s just as important to have the light on when you’re doing it.”

Jonathan “Jeb” Pinkerton was one of the parents who testified during the hearing.

When he divorced his wife after ten years in Berkeley County, he said his custody time with his daughter was cut to 27 percent based on his full-time working hours.

“The fact that I worked to support my family was not taken into account during custody hearings, just the fact that I wasn’t at home,” Pinkerton said.

“I worked full-time and my ex-wife did not. I was harmed by the fact that I worked full-time to support my family.”

The House version of the bill was much longer and included a requirement for shared parental custody at 50-50 unless incompetence, neglect or abuse was determined during a “full adversarial judicial hearing.”

That 50-50 presumption is not in the Senate bill.

Del. Geoff Foster (R-Putnam, 15)

Del. Geoff Foster (R-Putnam, 15) was the lead sponsor of the House bill and said he preferred it but, under questioning, said of the Senate Judiciary amendment, “It is better than what is in current code.”

In the House bill, Foster said 50-50 was a starting point.

Included in the Senate custody bill were the provisions of a separate bill, SB 79, dealing with requests for relocation of a parent with a child.

The 2021 Regular Legislative Session ends on Saturday night.

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