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§49-6-2. Petition to court when child believed neglected or abused -- Right to counsel; improvement period; hearing; priority of proceeding; transcript.

(a) In any proceeding under the provisions of this article, the child, his or her or parents and his or her legally established custodian or other persons standing in loco parentis to him or her shall have the right to be represented by counsel at every stage of the proceedings and shall be informed by the court of their right to be so represented and that if they cannot pay for the services of counsel, that counsel will be appointed. Counsel of the child shall be appointed in the initial order. If the order gives physical custody of the child to the state, the initial order shall appoint counsel for the parents or, if the parents are separated or divorced, the parents or parent or other person or persons standing in loco parentis who had physical custody of the child for the majority of the time in the period immediately preceding the petition: Provided, That such representation shall only continue after the first appearance if the parent or other persons standing in loco parentis cannot pay for the services of counsel. Counsel for other parties shall only be appointed upon request for appointment of counsel. If the requesting parties have not retained counsel and cannot pay for the services of counsel, the court shall, by order entered of record, appoint an attorney or attorneys to represent the other party or parties and so inform the parties. Under no circumstances may the same attorney represent both the child and the other party or parties, nor shall the same attorney represent both parents or custodians. However, one attorney may represent both parents or custodians where both parents or guardians consent to this representation after the attorney fully discloses to the client the possible conflict and where the attorney assures the court that she or he is able to represent each client without impairing her or his professional judgment; however, if more than one child from a family is involved in the proceeding, one attorney may represent all the children. A parent who has been judicially determined to be battered shall be entitled to his or her own attorney. The court may allow to each attorney so appointed a fee in the same amount which appointed counsel can receive in felony cases. Effective July 1, 2012, any attorney appointed pursuant to this section shall receive a minimum of eight hours of continuing legal education training per reporting period on child abuse and neglect procedure and practice. In addition to this requirement, after July 1, 2013, any attorney appointed to represent a child must first complete training on representation of children that is approved by the administrative office of the Supreme Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court of Appeals shall develop procedures for approval and certification of training required under this section by July 1, 2012: Provided, however, That where no attorney who has completed this training is available for such appointment, the court shall appoint a competent attorney with demonstrated knowledge of child welfare law to represent the parent or child. Any attorney appointed pursuant to this section shall perform all duties required as an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of West Virginia.

(b) In any proceeding brought pursuant to the provisions of this article, the court may grant any respondent an improvement period in accord with the provisions of this article. During such period, the court may require temporary custody with a responsible person which has been found to be a fit and proper person for the temporary custody of the child or children or the state department or other agency during the improvement period. An order granting such improvement period shall require the department to prepare and submit to the court a family case plan in accordance with the provisions of section three, article six-d of this chapter.

(c) In any proceeding pursuant to the provisions of this article, the party or parties having custodial or other parental rights or responsibilities to the child shall be afforded a meaningful opportunity to be heard, including the opportunity to testify and to present and cross-examine witnesses. The petition shall not be taken as confessed. A transcript or recording shall be made of all proceedings unless waived by all parties to the proceeding. The rules of evidence shall apply. Where relevant, the court shall consider the efforts of the state department to remedy the alleged circumstances. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court shall make a determination based upon the evidence and shall make findings of fact and conclusions of law as to whether such child is abused or neglected and, if applicable, whether the parent, guardian, or custodian is a battered parent, all of which shall be incorporated into the order of the court. The findings must be based upon conditions existing at the time of the filing of the petition and proven by clear and convincing proof.

(d) Any petition filed and any proceeding held under the provisions of this article shall, to the extent practicable, be given priority over any other civil action before the court, except proceedings under article two-a, chapter forty-eight of this code and actions in which trial is in progress. Any petition filed under the provisions of this article shall be docketed immediately upon filing. Any hearing to be held at the end of an improvement period and any other hearing to be held during any proceedings under the provisions of this article shall be held as nearly as practicable on successive days and, with respect to said hearing to be held at the end of an improvement period, shall be held as close in time as possible after the end of said improvement period and shall be held within sixty days of the termination of such improvement period.(e) Following the court's determination, it shall be inquired of the parents or custodians whether or not appeal is desired and the response transcribed. A negative response shall not be construed as a waiver. The evidence shall be transcribed and made available to the parties or their counsel as soon as practicable, if the same is required for purposes of further proceedings. If an indigent person intends to pursue further proceedings, the court reporter shall furnish a transcript of the hearing without cost to the indigent person if an affidavit is filed stating that he or she cannot pay therefor.

Note: WV Code updated with legislation passed through the 2017 Regular Session
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