Justia Family Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
In the Matter of Crystal & Joshua Ndyaija
Respondent Joshua Ndyaija appealed various Circuit Court orders following the parties’ divorce. He argued the trial court erred by: (1) dismissing his motion for contempt against petitioner Crystal Ndyaija; (2) denying his motion regarding parental interference; (3) denying his motion to restrain; (4) modifying his child support obligations for the parties’ minor child; (5) denying his motion to modify the parties’ parenting plan and permanent stipulation, vacating a provision of the parenting plan, and ordering him to pay the petitioner’s attorney’s fees; and (6) granting the petitioner’s motion to approve daycare enrollment for the child. Respondent also argued the trial court lacked jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination under RSA chapter 458-A (2018), and lacked jurisdiction over the divorce action under RSA 458:5 and :6 (2018). After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concludes the trial court properly exercised jurisdiction over the child custody proceeding under RSA chapter 458-A and the divorce action under RSA 458:5 and :6. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the respondent’s motion for contempt, motion to restrain, and motion regarding parental interference. As for the trial court’s amended uniform support order, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by applying the petitioner’s calculation of respondent’s income in determining his amended child support obligation, declining to adjust the child support obligation, ordering the respondent to pay an arrearage, and ordering him to pay his child support obligation to DCSS by immediate income assignment. However, the Court vacate and remanded the amended uniform support order for the trial court to: (1) consider income from the petitioner’s second job; (2) require petitioner to comply with Family Division Rules 1.25-A(B)(1)(c) and 2.16 by providing four pay stubs per employer or to establish good cause to waive this requirement; and (3) consider the amount of child support the respondent paid during the arrearage period in its arrearage calculation. Finally, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not unsustainably exercise its discretion by denying the respondent’s requests to modify the parties’ parenting plan and permanent stipulation and vacating paragraph G of the parenting plan. View "In the Matter of Crystal & Joshua Ndyaija" on Justia Law
In the Matter of Braunstein
Petitioner Sean Braunstein (Husband), appealed the final decree and associated orders entered by the Circuit Court in his divorce from respondent Jericka Braunstein (Wife). He argued, among other things, that the trial court erred by including his monthly federal veterans’ disability benefits as income for child support purposes. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "In the Matter of Braunstein" on Justia Law
In Re D.O.
Respondent, the father of the juvenile (Father), appealed a superior court order denying his motion for permission to file a late appeal of an adverse ruling issued by the Circuit Court on an abuse and neglect petition brought by petitioner, the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). The superior court found that Father failed to demonstrate “good cause” for filing a late appeal. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court held as a matter of law, that it was “reasonable and just” to grant Father’s motion to file his appeal late. Father filed his partially-assented-to motion to file a late appeal on April 17, 2019, before the parties had ever appeared in the superior court. Father did not file his appeal earlier because his attorney was on maternity leave when the dispositional order was entered, and “[t]here was a misunderstanding between father and [his] counsel’s office regarding the filing of the appeal.” The attorney for the child and the attorney for Mother assented to Father’s motion. According to the superior court, the parties preferred that Father’s and Mother’s cases “be tried together.” Under these circumstances, the Court concluded there was good cause, as a matter of law, to grant Father’s motion to file a late appeal. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "In Re D.O." on Justia Law
In re Guardianship of K.B.
Petitioner appealed a circuit court order denying her petition to modify or terminate the guardianship of respondents over her minor biological daughter, K.B. The guardianship was granted by a court of the State of Connecticut in 2010. Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the circuit court did not have jurisdiction over this petition to modify another state’s child-custody determination, it vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss the petition. View "In re Guardianship of K.B." on Justia Law
In the Matter of Steven Summers & Christine Summers
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
In re A.D.
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
In re J.W.
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
In the Matter of St. Pierre & Thatcher
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
In the Matter of Mitchell Cohen & Marian Richards
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
In the Matter of Richell Chrestensen & Sean Pearson
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