H. B. 4780
(By Delegates Hines, Mahan, Wills, Webb, Spencer,
Faircloth and Capito)
(Originating in the House Committee on the Judiciary)
[February 28, 2000]
A BILL to amend and reenact section twenty-seven, article two,
chapter forty-eight of the code of West Virginia, one thousand
nine hundred thirty-one, as amended, relating generally to the
confidentiality of domestic relations court files; and
requiring the clerk of the circuit court to maintain a log of
all persons who examine or copy confidential documents.
Be it enacted by the Legislature of West Virginia:
That section twenty-seven, article two, chapter forty-eight of
the code of West Virginia, one thousand nine hundred thirty-one, as
amended, be amended and reenacted, to read as follows:
ARTICLE 2. DIVORCE, ANNULMENT AND SEPARATE MAINTENANCE.
§48-2-27. Confidentiality of domestic relations court files.
All orders in domestic relations cases entered in the civil
order books by circuit clerks are public records. For purposes of
this section, domestic relations cases shall include actions for
divorce, annulment, separate maintenance, paternity, child support, custody, visitation, actions brought under the provisions of the
uniform interstate family support act and petitions for writs of
habeas corpus wherein the issue is child custody.
Upon the filing of a domestic relations case, all pleadings,
exhibits or other documents contained in the court file are
confidential and not open for public inspection either during the
pendency of the case or after the case is closed.
When sensitive information has been disclosed during a hearing
or in pleadings, evidence, or documents filed in the record, a
circuit judge or family law master may, sua sponte or upon motion
of a party, order such information sealed in the court file.
Sealed documents or court files shall only be opened by order of a
circuit judge or family law master: Provided, That, in any case
pending before a family law master, the master may open and inspect
the entire contents of the court file.
The parties, their designees, their attorneys, a duly
appointed guardian ad litem or any person who has standing to
modify or enforce a support order, shall have the right to examine
and copy any document in a confidential court file which has not
been sealed by order of a circuit judge or family law master. Upon
motion and for good cause shown, the circuit court or family law
master may permit a person not a party to the action the right to
examine and copy such documents as are necessary to further the
interests of justice.
The clerk of the circuit court shall keep a written log of all
persons who examine confidential documents as provided for in this
section. Every person who examines confidential documents must
sign the log, other than a circuit judge or family law master
before whom the case is pending, or court personnel acting within
the scope of their duties. The clerk shall record the time and
date of examination. The log shall be retained by the clerk and
shall be available upon request for inspection by the court.
Strike-throughs indicate language that would be stricken from
the present law, and underscoring indicates new language that would