William M. v. W.Va. Bureau of Child Support Enf't, 20-0620

Case DateAugust 27, 2021
CourtSupreme Court of Virginia

William M., Petitioner Below, Petitioner

West Virginia Bureau of Child Support Enforcement, and Brenda H., Respondents Below, Respondents

No. 20-0620

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

August 27, 2021

Taylor County 01-D-58


Self-represented Petitioner William M. ("petitioner father") appeals the July 16, 2020, order of the Circuit Court of Taylor County denying his appeal from the May 18, 2020, order of the Family Court of Taylor County awarding a judgment against petitioner father in the amount of $5, 610.74 in child support for the period from April 1, 2005, through August 31, 2019.[1] Respondent West Virginia Bureau of Child Support Enforcement ("BCSE"), by counsel Kimberly D. Bentley, filed a response in support of the circuit court's order.[2] Petitioner father filed a reply.

The Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court's order is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

Petitioner father and Respondent Brenda H. ("respondent mother") never married, but have one child together, L.M., who turned eighteen years old in September of 2018. On October 24, 2019, petitioner father filed an objection to the BCSE's affidavit of accrued support, filed on October 3, 2019, which asserted that petitioner father was "at least 30 days in arrears" in the amount of $5, 610.74 in support for the period from April 1, 2005, through August 31, 2019, after L.M.'s eighteenth birthday. Thereafter, the Family Court of Taylor County held a hearing on January 13, 2020, at which petitioner father argued that his child support obligation should have not continued beyond L.M.'s eighteenth birthday pursuant to West Virginia Code § 48-11-103(a) because L.M. was not "enrolled as a full-time student in a secondary educational . . . program and making substantial progress towards a diploma[.]" However, according to respondent mother's testimony, L.M. has had an individualized education program ("I.E.P.") since he was in kindergarten due to a learning disability that caused L.M. to be "slower learning" in reading and mathematics. [3] Respondent mother further testified that L.M. suffered from depression. Respondent mother introduced, and the family court accepted, into evidence L.M.'s 2017 I.E.P. confirming that L.M. (1) had "a level of learning [that] reflects low academic performance compared to same-age peers when provided with [age-appropriate] learning experiences and instruction" in the areas of "[r]eading [f]luency" and "[m]athematics [c]alculation"; and (2) suffered depression as an "educationally relevant medical finding[ ]." (emphasis omitted).

Respondent mother stated that L.M.'s difficulties with completing his high school education began at the end of 2016 when she lost another child due to suicide, which affected L.M., and that, in November of 2017, L.M. "gave up" on his secondary education, resulting in L.M. having numerous unexcused absences from school during that month. Respondent mother further testified that, after consulting with L.M.'s I.E.P. team from the Taylor County Board of Education ("school board"), it was agreed that she would notify the school board that she would homeschool L.M. by enrolling him with Penn Foster High School ("Penn Foster"), an online secondary educational institution, so that L.M. could complete his high school education. Petitioner father testified that he believed that Penn Foster's educational program permitted L.M. to study at his own pace rather than requiring him to be a full-time student making substantial progress towards a diploma, as required by West Virginia Code § 48-11-103(a). However, under questioning from the family court as to whether petitioner father's opinion was founded upon sufficient knowledge of L.M.'s special needs, petitioner father admitted that he had not been involved in L.M.'s education for a substantial period of time, stating that he decided that "it was best that I stayed out of the picture as much as possible." Petitioner father's testimony that he stayed "out of the picture" was supported by respondent mother's testimony that the last I.E.P. meeting petitioner father attended was the year L.M. attended kindergarten. Also, the BCSE objected to petitioner father's introduction of the educational program offered by a different online high school that did not have L.M. enrolled as irrelevant as to whether petitioner father's child support obligation should continue pursuant to West Virginia Code § 48-11-103(a). The family court refused to admit the educational program offered by Excel High School ("Excel") into evidence as L.M. was not enrolled with Excel.

After the January 13, 2020, hearing, but before the entry of the family court's May 18, 2020, order, the family court received a letter from the school board, dated May 7, 2020, that L.M. successfully completed his high school education...

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