Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court

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Respondent Christine Summers (Mother) appealed, and petitioner Steven Summers (Father) cross-appealed a circuit court order which modified the parties’ prior parenting plans. On appeal, Mother contended the trial court unreasonably failed to grant her equal parenting time after finding that she was sober, had complied with the court’s prior orders, and had a strong bond with the parties’ children. In his cross-appeal, Father argued that the trial court lacked statutory authority to modify the parties’ prior parenting plans because Mother neither pleaded nor proved a statutory ground for modification. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s order. View "In the Matter of Steven Summers & Christine Summers" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Cynthia Clark appealed a circuit court order dismissing her petition to adopt a four-year-old child, A.D. In April 2016, the child was reunited with her mother with whom she resided until December 2016. During that time, petitioner sometimes babysat. Pursuant to court orders, the child’s father was allowed to have only supervised visitation with the child; those visits were to be arranged through, and supervised by, a parent aide. However, unbeknownst to DCYF, while babysitting the child, petitioner allowed the child’s father to visit and stay overnight. In September, the child’s father informed petitioner he believed that the child was not safe with the mother and that he wanted to be reunited with the child. Although petitioner, as a social worker, was a mandatory reporter, she did not contact DCYF about the father’s safety concerns. Rather, unbeknownst to DCYF, she began a personal relationship with the father who, at the time, was 19 while petitioner was 47 years old. Text messages between petitioner and the child’s father indicated he was a regular visitor to petitioner’s home and that he was involved in her personal life. In December, the child was removed from her mother’s care and was again placed with petitioner for foster care. A permanency hearing in the parents’ ongoing neglect case was scheduled to take place in March 2017. Shortly before it took place, DCYF learned of the relationship between petitioner and the child’s father. DCYF informed the court, and the court ordered that the child be removed from petitioner’s care and placed with another foster family. In June 2017, approximately three months after the child was removed from her care and before the parental rights of the child’s parents had been terminated, petitioner sought to adopt the child. In November, the trial court dismissed petitioner’s petition on the ground that petitioner lacked standing. The court observed that the child had never been placed with petitioner “for the purposes of adoption,” that she had been removed from petitioner’s care “for cause,” and that the child had not been in petitioner’s care and custody “for a year and a half.” Petitioner unsuccessfully moved for reconsideration. Finding no reversible error in the trial court’s judgment, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed dismissal. View "In re A.D." on Justia Law

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Petitioners M.F. and C.N., unmarried, cohabitating adults, jointly petitioned to adopt M.F.’s minor biological son, J.W. The Circuit Court ruled that RSA 170-B:4 (2014) did not authorize such an adoption and dismissed the petition. On appeal, petitioners argued the trial court erred because they were eligible to jointly adopt J.W. pursuant to RSA 170-B:4, II and III. Finding no error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re J.W." on Justia Law

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Respondent Adam Thatcher and petitioner Haley St. Pierre met in August 2012. Later that year, they moved in together, having developed a romantic relationship. In February 2013, petitioner traveled to New York for a weekend, where she had sexual relations with Colby Santaw, a former boyfriend. Shortly thereafter, she discovered that she was pregnant. Upon learning of the pregnancy, she informed respondent that he was the father, and notified Santaw that he was not. Respondent, having been made aware of petitioner’s intimate relations with Santaw, asked if Santaw could be the father. Petitioner assured respondent the child was his. The child was born on October 31, 2013. An affidavit of paternity was completed by the parties at the hospital following the child’s birth. Prior to signing the affidavit, the parties were informed by hospital staff that if they thought there was a chance that the respondent was not the father, they should not sign the affidavit. Respondent was ultimately listed as the child’s father on the birth certificate. The parties married in January 2014, and, citing irreconcilable differences, divorced in July 2015. Following the divorce, petitioner rekindled her relationship with Santaw. On a trip together in October 2015, petitioner and Santaw began discussing the birthdate of the child. After considering the timing of his intimate relationship with petitioner and the child’s date of birth, Santaw believed that he might be the child’s father. This belief was strengthened when he compared baby pictures of the child to his own baby pictures, and noticed a resemblance. Shortly thereafter, petitioner and Santaw agreed to conduct genetic testing. In October 2015, these test results confirmed that Santaw was the child’s biological father. Petitioner filed a petition pro se, seeking to amend hers and respondent’s parenting plan regarding the child. She wanted to change the child’s name and remove respondent from the birth certificate. Respondent resisted the change, and resisted petitioner’s request to move with the child from New Hampshire to Florida. The New Hampshire Supreme Court believed the trial court record supported the trial court’s rescission of the paternity affidavit based on material mistake of fact made by the parties. Furthermore, the Court believed there was sufficient evidence to support the grant of primary custodial responsibilities to petitioner and allowing the child to relocate. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s order. View "In the Matter of St. Pierre & Thatcher" on Justia Law

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Respondent Marian Richards appealed a circuit court order approving the divorce decree recommended by the Judicial Referee. On appeal, respondent argued the circuit court erred by: (1) improperly excluding certain estimated expenses claimed by the respondent in determining the alimony award; (2) classifying as income, rather than marital property, payments petitioner Mitchell Cohen might receive pursuant to deferred compensation and severance agreements; and (3) improperly calculating the respondent’s share of those payments, if the court properly classified them as income. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the benefit provided by petitioner’s deferred compensation plan was similar in nature to a non-vested pension benefit and therefore constituted intangible marital property subject to equitable distribution. Because petitioner had an interest in receiving the retirement benefit upon his retirement under the deferred compensation agreement, the Court concluded any future payments he might receive that were attributable to his employment during the parties’ marriage constituted marital property subject to equitable division. Furthermore, petitioner's conditional right to receive severance pay pursuant to an employment agreement acquired during the marriage constituted an employment benefit under the applicable statute. Therefore, the Supreme Court determined the trial court erred when it classified payments under the deferred compensation and severance agreements as income for the purpose of determining alimony. The Court also vacated and remanded the trial court's base alimony award that was based in part, upon the court's consideration of the award of marital property. On remand, the trial court had to: (1) equitably divide the retirement benefit under the deferred compensation agreement and the payment under the severance agreement pursuant to the factors in RSA 458:16-a, II, and the requirements set forth in RSA 458:16-a, IV; and (2) recalculate the respondent’s alimony award in accordance with this opinion and RSA 458:19, VI (2018) (amended 2018). View "In the Matter of Mitchell Cohen & Marian Richards" on Justia Law

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Appellant Sean Pearson appealed a circuit court order dismissing his petitions for parenting time for lack of standing. Appellant is the biological father of a child born in March 2010. Appellant surrendered his parental rights to the child in 2012. In conjunction with the surrender, the mother adopted the child and became the child's sole parent. The mother allowed appellant to have contact with the child after the surrender; the parties disputed the nature and frequency of that contact. Appellant moved to reopen the surrender case in 2014. The probate division denied the motion after reviewing, inter alia, the recording of the 2012 hearing at which the appellant surrendered his parental rights to the child. Based on the record, the probate division concluded that appellant “was fully advised of his rights at the time of the [surrender] proceeding,” “knowingly and voluntarily waived those rights,” and “freely and voluntarily acknowledged” that he would no longer be the parent of the child upon the court’s acceptance of the surrender. In 2017, appellant filed petitions for parenting time with the child in the family division. The mother moved to dismiss, arguing in part that the appellant lacked standing because he had surrendered his parental rights to the child in 2012. Relying on In the Matter of J.B. & J.G., 157 N.H. 577 (2008), appellant claimed he had standing because he had “acted as [the child]’s father” in the years since the surrender. At the appellant’s request, the trial court held an evidentiary hearing on the motion to dismiss, at which it heard testimony concerning, inter alia, the frequency and nature of the appellant’s contact with the child post-surrender. Following the hearing, the court granted the motion to dismiss for lack of standing. The New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed appellant lacked standing and affirmed dismissal of appellant's petitions. View "In the Matter of Richell Chrestensen & Sean Pearson" on Justia Law

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Respondent, the biological mother of C.O. and G.L., appealed a circuit court order terminating her parental rights over the two minor children on the ground that she failed to correct the conditions that led to the circuit court’s finding that she neglected both children and abused G.L. She argued the circuit court erred in finding: (1) the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families made reasonable efforts to reunify her with her children after it terminated visits with her children; and (2) she failed to correct the conditions that led to the court’s finding of abuse and neglect because one of the circuit court’s conditions, that she accept responsibility for the underlying abuse, violated her constitutional right against self-incrimination. After review of the facts entered in the circuit court record, the New Hampshire Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion and affirmed. View "In re C.O.; In re G.L." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff T.P. appealed circuit court devisions to deny her motion to extend her domestic violence final order of protection against the defendant, B.P. Plaintiff had applied for multiple one-year extensions to a restraining order that was issued against B.P. After one such extension, the trial court issued a narrative order on January 27, 2017, finding that plaintiff had “met her burden to establish good cause to support the extension of the Restraining Order for an additional year.” A year later, believing that the restraining order had been extended to January 27, 2018, plaintiff filed for a five-year extension of the order on January 19. Defendant objected, arguing that plaintiff “failed to timely file her request for an extension under RSA 173-B” and that she could not “seek extension of a restraining order that [had] expired 35 days prior to her request.” Defendant contended that the January 2017 narrative order “simply confirmed the extension until December 15, 2017.” Plaintiff argued her motion for the five-year extension was timely filed. The New Hampshire Supreme Court fond the the trial court issued the final order of protection on December 17, 2015. That order was effective until December 15, 2016. A year later, the trial court extended the final order; by statute, that extension was necessarily for “one year after the expiration of the first order,” or until December 15, 2017. By definition, a final order of protection cannot be “extended” if it has “expired.” Therefore, for the plaintiff to timely file for a five-year extension, the plain language of the statute mandated that she file by December 15, 2017. Because the plaintiff did not do so, her request was untimely. The Court therefore affirmed denial of plaintiff's motion for a five-year extension. View "T.P. v. B.P." on Justia Law

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Respondent, the father of H.J. (child), appealed a circuit court order terminating his parental rights. The parenting plan allowed for supervised visitation, but that the mother could exercise discretion in refuse such visits. After one such refusal, mother expressed concern that visitation would be emotionally disruptive to the child because the father’s frequent incarcerations would not allow him to become a consistent part of the child’s life. The father appears to have done nothing to challenge the mother’s decision. He argued on appeal of the decision to terminate his parental rights that the evidence did not support the circuit court’s findings that: (1) he had abandoned the child; (2) he had not paid sufficient support; and (3) termination of his parental rights was in the child’s best interest. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re H.J." on Justia Law

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The parents of O.D., B.D., and G.D. appealed a circuit court order terminating their parental rights over their children, on the ground that they failed to correct the conditions leading to a finding of neglect. They argued the circuit court violated their due process rights by terminating their parental rights without requiring the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) to file new abuse or neglect petitions against them after the court issued an ex parte order removing the children from their home during ongoing neglect proceedings and by failing to appoint counsel for them during the neglect proceedings. Finding no abuse of discretion or other reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re O.D." on Justia Law