24 Bills Affecting Family Law Get Through Both Houses, 4 Killed, More to Come

Here's how family law bills in Richmond stand after Feb. 20:

 Freshly killed in second house, after passing one house, since last post:

Highlights of what has passed both houses:

Signed by Governor, Enacted Into Law

Divorce

Support

Children

 Elder Law/Probate

Women's Liberation

Passed Both Houses, awaiting governor action OR conference committee -- Full List 

Marriage

 

 

 Children

Domestic Violence

 Elder Law/Probate

 Procedure

Passed One House, then Committee-Approved in Second House

Killed in first house (by any of several methods: Defeated, recommended not reporting, recommended tabling, carried over to next year, passed by indefinitely):

Marriage

Divorce

Support

Children

Domestic Violence

Elder Law/Probate

Procedure


46 bills affecting family law have passed one house & "crossed over" to the other

Here's how family law bills in Richmond stand after Feb. 16:

Fresh kills since last post

Highlights of what has passed both houses:

Passed Both Houses, awaiting governor action OR conference committee 

Marriage

Women's Liberation

Divorce

Support

 Children

Domestic Violence

 Elder Law/Probate

 Procedure

Passed One House, then Committee-Approved in Second House

 Passed One House, then Subcommittee-Approved in Second House 

 Freshly killed in second house, after passing one house, since last post:

Killed in first house (by any of several methods: Defeated, recommended not reporting, recommended tabling, carried over to next year, passed by indefinitely):

Marriage

Divorce

Support

Children

Domestic Violence

Elder Law/Probate

Procedure


Richmond family law action on expat divorce, parenting time, voiding quitclaims, medical subpoenas, digital assets, spendthrifts

Bills that made progress since last post:

New killin' since last post:

Here's how bills stand after House and Senate Committees met on Jan. 25, in this order: (1) Approved by committee (2) Approved by subcommittee (3) Awaiting any committee or subcommittee action (4) Killed.

Approved by House or Senate:

Approved by Committee:

Approved by Subcommittee:

No action yet by any committee or subcommittee:

Marriage

Divorce

Support

Children 

Domestic Violence

Elder Law/Probate

 Procedure

Women's Lib

Killed (by any of several methods: Defeated, recommended not reporting, recommended tabling, carried over to next year, passed by indefinitely):


Va. legislature: More bills affecting families get through committee, more killed, more introduced

Here's how bills stand after House and Senate Committees met on Jan. 18, in this order: (1) Approved by committee (2) Approved by subcommittee (3) Awaiting any committee or subcommittee action (4) Killed.

Approved by Committee:

Approved by Subcommittee:

No action yet by any committee or subcommittee:

Marriage

Divorce

Support

Children 

Domestic Violence

Elder Law/Probate

 Procedure

Women's Lib

Killed (by any of several methods: Defeated, recommended not reporting, recommended tabling, carried over to next year, passed by indefinitely):


Va. legislature's committees weed out 9 family law & probate bills, approve 16, more to come

Here's how things stand after House and Senate Committees met on Jan. 18, in this order:

  1. Approved by committee.
  2. Approved by subcommittee.
  3. Not yet acted on by any committee or subcommittee. 
  4. Killed. by any of several methods: Defeated, recommended not reporting, recommended tabling, carried over to next year, passed by indefinitely.

Approved and Reported by Committee:

Approved and Reported by Subcommittee:

Not yet acted on by any committee or subcommittee:

Marriage

Divorce

Support

Children 

Domestic Violence

Elder Law/Probate

 Procedure

Women's Lib

Killed:


Bills would let unregulated gov't non-lawyers file serious court cases against parents, without a lawyer's signature

A bill now in Virginia's  Senate and House of Delegates would let Virginia welfare agencies file court cases against parents without a lawyer signing off on the case -- fundamentally changing the traditional role of law practice as a regulated, accountable profession bound by ethics rules. These are very serious cases that can take apart families, destroy parents' finances and livelihoods, and lead to their being jailed for contempt.

Currently, legal ethics rules, court rules, and the Sanctions statute require all lawsuits to be signed by a lawyer (except for people who represent themselves), and require the lawyer to believe, after due investigation, that the suit is well-founded in the facts and the law and not filed simply to harass, impoverish or delay the other party. They also require lawyers to be truthful to courts, opponents and others involved.  The bill, and the statutes it amends, do not do anything to make these new case-filers subject to those rules. And even if it did, that would not be the same as requiring a lawyer to put her credibility and hard-earned license on the line every time she signs a court filing. 

Welfare agencies do great work but like anyone, they do get things wrong, out of negligence or simply normal human imperfection, not malevolence or corruption. Requiring a lawyer to sign off on these case filings is an important protection for the public, reducing the chances of a completely groundless prosecution, ensuring due process of law, and providing accountability when things go wrong. An example, where a judge felt strongly that sanctions and lawyers' fees should be awarded to the victim of a groundless civil child-abuse suit, is FAIRFAX COUNTY DEPT. OF HUMAN DEV. V. DONALD, 251 Va. 227 (Va. 1996). 

The drafters seem to think that providing standard, foolproof check-box forms (which already exist) removes the need for lawyers. But having non-lawyers draft the forms is never a problem and is not the issue. The issue is protecting citizens and courts, by holding even the do-goodingest government agencies to the same basic rules that govern any other person, corporation or agency that takes someone else to court.

The bill adds to Code § 16.1-260 on Juvenile Court filings:

"designated nonattorney employees of a local department of social services may complete, sign, and file with the clerk, on forms approved by the Supreme Court of Virginia, petitions for foster care review, petitions for permanency planning hearings, petitions to establish paternity, motions to establish or modify support, motions to amend or review an order, and motions for a rule to show cause;"

[Note: "Motions to amend or review" includes modification of any existing child custody, visitation or placement order. "Rule to show cause" means contempt of court, including up to a year in jail and setting amounts of support arrears to be paid in order to get out of jail.]

It adds to § 54.1-3900, on who can practice law:

Nothing herein shall prohibit designated nonattorney employees of a local department of social services from appearing before an intake officer to initiate a case in accordance with subsection A of § 16.1-260 on behalf of the local department of social services.

Nothing herein shall prohibit designated nonattorney employees of a local department of social services from completing, signing, and filing with the clerk of the juvenile and domestic relations district court, on forms approved by the Supreme Court of Virginia, petitions for foster care review, petitions for permanency planning hearings, petitions to establish paternity, motions to establish or modify support, motions to amend or review an order, or motions for a rule to show cause.

And it adds to Code § 63.2-332, "The local director shall designate nonattorney employees who are authorized to (i) initiate a case on behalf of the local department by appearing before an intake officer or (ii) complete, sign, and file with the clerk of the juvenile and domestic relations district court, on forms approved by the Supreme Court of Virginia, petitions for foster care review, petitions for permanency planning hearings, petitions to establish paternity, motions to establish or modify support, motions to amend or review an order, or motions for a rule to show cause."

The proposal is in two bills which appear identical: House Bill 589 and SB 417SB 417 passed the State Senate 20 to 17, with three Senators not voting. I'm proud to say my William & Mary law classmates Jennifer Wexton and Ryan McDougle, Fairfax Senators Chap Petersen and Scott Surovell, my old Senator Tommy Norment, and Donald McEachin all voted Nay. It is now in the House Courts of Justice - Civil Law Subcommittee. It is on the Committee's agenda for this coming Monday, Feb. 22. The subcommittee's members are Delegates Habeeb (Chairman), Kilgore, Loupassi, Minchew, Leftwich, Campbell, Miyares, Toscano, McClellan,  and Krizek. The full Courts committee's members are Delegates Albo (Chairman), Kilgore, Bell, Robert B., Cline, Gilbert, Miller, Loupassi, Habeeb, Minchew, Morris, Leftwich, Adams,Campbell, Collins, Miyares, Watts, Toscano, Herring, McClellan, Hope, Mason, and Krizek.

HBl 589 passed the House almost unanimously and is now in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, which also meets this coming Monday.

Almost as bad, I see that Code § 54.1-3900 already has existing language allowing this practice for child-support filings. Even though Social Services already has its own internal administrative tribunals that can make and review child support orders without lawyers. It reads:

Nothing herein shall prohibit designated nonattorney employees of the Department of Social Services from completing, signing and filing petitions and motions relating to the establishment, modification, or enforcement of support on forms approved by the Supreme Court of Virginia in Department cases in the juvenile and domestic relations district courts. 

If I understand correctly, this was added a few years ago to protect the validity of existing support orders after it was discovered that some non-lawyer social services employees were already doing this. But they could have done that without allowing the practice to continue and be authorized by the state. The existing language is bad enough but the new version would cover many more kinds of cases. Ideally, an amendment-as substitute should delete that existing language and drop all the new language currently in SB417

If you want to see what protections this bill takes away from parents, Here is Code § 8.01-271.1:

§ 8.01-271.1. Signing of pleadings, motions, and other papers; oral motions; sanctions.

Except as otherwise provided in §§ 16.1-260 and 63.2-1901, every pleading, written motion, and other paper of a party represented by an attorney shall be signed by at least one attorney of record in his individual name, and the attorney's address shall be stated on the first pleading filed by that attorney in the action. A party who is not represented by an attorney, including a person confined in a state or local correctional facility proceeding pro se, shall sign his pleading, motion, or other paper and state his address.

The signature of an attorney or party constitutes a certificate by him that (i) he has read the pleading, motion, or other paper, (ii) to the best of his knowledge, information and belief, formed after reasonable inquiry, it is well grounded in fact and is warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law, and (iii) it is not interposed for any improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation. If a pleading, written motion, or other paper is not signed, it shall be stricken unless it is signed promptly after the omission is called to the attention of the pleader or movant.

An oral motion made by an attorney or party in any court of the Commonwealth constitutes a representation by him that (i) to the best of his knowledge, information and belief formed after reasonable inquiry it is well grounded in fact and is warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification or reversal of existing law, and (ii) it is not interposed for any improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation.

If a pleading, motion, or other paper is signed or made in violation of this rule, the court, upon motion or upon its own initiative, shall impose upon the person who signed the paper or made the motion, a represented party, or both, an appropriate sanction, which may include an order to pay to the other party or parties the amount of the reasonable expenses incurred because of the filing of the pleading, motion, or other paper or making of the motion, including a reasonable attorney's fee.


Supreme Court silently ignores clear text of Indian Child Welfare Act, "needlessly demeans parenthood"

The majority opinion in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl (U.S. S.Ct. June 25, 2013) displays a disturbingly dismissive attitude towards unwed fathers, and indeed all non-custodial parents, and toward the purposes of the  Indian Child Welfare Act, while making a textually decent case that three particular pieces of ICWA do not apply to the case: 25 USC § 1912 (d) and (f), which appear to be written primarily for children removed from Indian homes and put in foster care, which sound like good, safe rules to apply to adoptions in order to protect parents' and children's basic constitutional rights, but which may not literally apply to adoptions the way they are written; and 25 USC § 1915 (a), which clearly comes into play only AFTER a decision that a child will be put up for adoption, giving preference to extended family, other members of the tribe, and then Indians from other tribes.  But those statutes are not the primary ones covering this case. The clearly stated, fundamental rule covering this case is the rule on voluntary consents to adoption:
"25 USC § 1913 - Parental rights; voluntary termination. (c) Voluntary termination of parental rights or adoptive placement; withdrawal of consent; return of custody. In any voluntary proceeding for termination of parental rights to, or adoptive placement of, an Indian child, the consent of the parent may be withdrawn for any reason at any time prior to the entry of a final decree of termination or adoption, as the case may be, and the child shall be returned to the parent."
This provision is the clearest and simplest basis for dismissing the adoption and immediately returning the child to the father. It makes it unnecessary to consider the other ICWA provisions, which gave the Court so much difficulty and dissension.  It was cited in the South Carolina Supreme Court opinion below, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, 398 S.C. 625 (2012), and I cannot imagine why it is mentioned not at all in the majority opinions, and only once, briefly, in the otherwise-awesome dissents. That lower-court opinion also contains several key facts of the case, conveniently omitted from the majority opinion. Such as that the father had filed a paternity suit.
What is truly scary about this case is the way it talks about non-custodial parents and unwed fathers, echoing some of the justices' comments in the oral arguments of Abbott v. Abbot, about the Hague Convention on international child abduction. The majority justices equate being a non-custodial parent with complete abandonment of any role as a parent, as if they were personally unfamiliar with the widespread realities of family breakdown and non-marital pregnancy, and had made no effort to investigate how these things work in contemporary society and law. They are extremely skeptical that the Act could have been intended to be used by unwed fathers who have not already had custody, and that skepticism colors their textual interpretation. On the other hand they gush about the adoptive parents, and how the adoptive father cut the umbliical cord himself -- even though the actual father was not invited to do so and it makes no difference whatever to the child. As Justice Scalia, dissenting, sums it up:
"The Court’s opinion … needlessly demeans the rights of parenthood. It has been the constant practice of the common law to respect the entitlement of those who bring a child into the world to raise that child. We do not inquire whether leaving a child with his parents is “in the best interest of the child.”"
In this case the father had earlier agreed to the mother keeping the child, which is not the same as agreeing to adoption. It did not seem like the same thing to the father, nor does it to most people, nor does the law treat it that way, but the majority opinion sees it as the moral equivalent of "abandoning" a child. He later signed something which would count as a proper consent to adoption, but claimed he didn't understand that the mother was putting the chld up for adoption by third parties -- which is certainly believeable given that everyone from young unwed fathers to the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has a lot of difficulty understanding basic concepts and distinctions in family law. But anyhow, the federal Indian Child Welfare Act gave him the right to revoke that consent at any time up until the final adoption order was issued, and he did that within that time limit -- in fact, the very next day.  That should have been the end of it, and the baby, then four months old, was supposed to have been returned to him immediately at that point under the Act.
Adoption is wonderful, of course, but at that point the child was not up for adoption. “We must remember that the purpose of an adop­tion is to provide a home for a child, not a child for a home.” In re Petition of Doe, 159 Ill. 2d, at 368, 638 N. E. 2d, at 190, quoted by Justice Sotomayor, dissenting.
 Now, I can't do justice to the dissents. They are splendid. They are required reading for anyone interested in family law or constitutional law. Including those of us who are forced to become interested in family law only when family law becomes interested in us. And Justice Sotomayor seems to be the one Justice who accepts that family breakdown is not a stigmatized aberration, but a widespread fact of life that should be dealt with in a way that respects everyone's dignity, i.e., that non-custodial parents have valuable roles, responsibilities and rights; who believes that if the Court gets involved in family law it should educate itself about family law, about what statutes and case law are in force and are followed in practice; and who looks back to the last era when the Court got involved in family law and defined parents' constitutional rights in family law cases. (Although I guess the same care and values should be attributed to the justices who joined her dissent, Scalia, Ginsburg and Kagan.) Here is just one out of many extremely quotable passages:
“The majority’s focus on “intact” families … begs the question of what Congress set out to accomplish with ICWA. In an ideal world, perhaps all parents would be perfect. They would live up to their parental responsibilities by providing the fullest possible financial and emotional support to their children. They would never suffer mental health problems, lose their jobs, struggle with substance dependency, or encounter any of the other multitudinous personal crises that can make it difficult to meet these responsibilities. In an ideal world parents would never become estranged and leave their children caught in the middle. But we do not live in such a world. Even happy families do not always fit the custodial-parent mold for which the majority would reserve IWCA’s substantive protections; unhappy families all too often do not. They are families nonetheless. Congress understood as much. ICWA’s definitions of “parent” and “termination of parental rights” provided in §1903 sweep broadly. They should be honored.” -- Justice Sotomayor, dissenting.
Here are the statutes discussed by the majority opinion:
25 USC § 1912 (d) Remedial services and rehabilitative programs; preventive measures. Any party seeking to effect a foster care placement of, or termination of parental rights to, an Indian child under State law shall satisfy the court that active efforts have been made to provide remedial services and rehabilitative programs designed to prevent the breakup of the Indian family and that these efforts have proved unsuccessful.
25 USC § 1912 (f) Parental rights termination orders; evidence; determination of damage to child. No termination of parental rights may be ordered in such proceeding in the absence of a determination, supported by evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, including testimony of qualified expert witnesses, that the continued custody of the child by the parent or Indian custodian is likely to result in serious emotional or physical damage to the child.
25 USC § 1915 (a) Adoptive placements; preferences. In any adoptive placement of an Indian child under State law, a preference shall be given, in the absence of good cause to the contrary, to a placement with
(1) a member of the child’s extended family;
(2) other members of the Indian child’s tribe; or
(3) other Indian families.