Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
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Respondent-Mother appealed circuit court orders entered during abuse and neglect proceedings regarding N.T. initiated by petitioner, the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), under RSA chapter 169-C (2014 & Supp. 2021). Mother argued the trial court erred when it denied her motion to dismiss the abuse and neglect petitions, claiming that, because the court failed to issue adjudicatory findings within sixty days of the filing of the petitions as required by RSA 169-C:15, III(d) (2014), the court lacked jurisdiction over the case. She also argued the court erred when it found that she had physically abused and neglected N.T. The New Hampshire Supreme Court held RSA chapter 169-C had multiple purposes that were advanced by the time limit in RSA 169-C:15, III(d): to protect the life, health, and welfare of the child, and to protect the rights of all parties involved in the abuse and neglect proceeding. "Because construing the time limit as jurisdictional would undermine all of these important objectives, we conclude that the legislature did not intend that the court be divested of jurisdiction as a consequence of its non-compliance with the deadline." In its review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court was satisfied the trial court did not err in finding Mother abused N.T. Accordingly, the circuit court orders were affirmed. View "In re N.T." on Justia Law

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Petitioner Philip Borelli (Husband) appealed a circuit court order that found he owed respondent Catherine Borelli (Wife) a child support arrearage, which the court ruled that it lacked authority to modify retroactively. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "In the Matter of Borelli" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff S.C. appealed a circuit court order denying her request for a domestic violence protective order against defendant G.C. The trial court concluded plaintiff did not meet her burden of proving a credible present threat to her safety based upon her admitted presence in defendant’s home during the timeframe of the alleged abuse. On appeal, plaintiff argued the court erred as a matter of law when it relied on her in-person contact with defendant as the sole basis for its decision. She also contended that the court erred when it made certain evidentiary, trial management, and other rulings that deprived her of a fair hearing and violated her due process rights. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed it was legal error for the circuit court to rely solely on plaintiff’s contact with defendant in denying her petition, and therefore vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "S.C. v. G.C." on Justia Law

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J.D. and A.D. were removed from their parents’ care in July 2017. In September 2017, the court found that the children were neglected by father and abused and neglected by mother within the meaning of RSA 169-C:3, II(c) (2014) and RSA 169-C:3, XIX(b) (Supp. 2021). In dispositional orders issued in October 2017, the court specified the conditions that the parents needed to correct and the services that DCYF would provide to facilitate reunification. In July 2020, the court found that the conditions leading to the abuse and neglect findings had not been corrected and that the parents had not demonstrated that the children would not be endangered if returned. As a result, DCYF filed petitions for termination of parental rights against both parents in August 2020. The parents appealed the termination of their parental rights to the children. But finding no abuse of the trial court's discretion or other reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed termination. View "In re J.D.; In re A.D." on Justia Law

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This divorce proceeding was initiated in March 2015 by Brian Colsia (husband) against his wife, Allana Kelley-Colsia (wife). Shortly before and during the divorce, Husband took several actions to hide marital assets from Wife and the court, and/or made discovery and recovery of the assets so difficult and costly that Wife would settle for less than that to which she was entitled. At the wife’s request, in February 2020, the trial court appointed a receiver to recover property that had been removed from the marital estate. This interlocutory appeal related to the trial court's order granting the motions to approve settlements filed by the receiver, Attorney Edmond J. Ford (receiver). Finding no reversible error in the trial court's grant of the motions to approve the receiver's settlements, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "In the Matter of Colsia" on Justia Law

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Respondent Kelly Routhier (wife) appealed a circuit court's final decree in her divorce from petitioner Matthew Routhier (husband). Wife argued the circuit court erred by: (1) concluding that it lacked jurisdiction to divide the husband’s interest in real property that he owned jointly with his parents; (2) deviating from the child support guidelines without providing adequate justification; (3) denying her request for alimony without providing adequate justification; and (4) declining to rule on her proposed findings of fact and rulings of law. Husband cross-appealed the final divorce decree as well as the circuit court’s final parenting plan, arguing the circuit court erred by: (1) ordering the parties’ child to attend public school in the district serving the wife’s residence; (2) improperly distributing the parties’ firearms; (3) preventing one of his witnesses from testifying at the final hearing; and (4) barring the court-appointed guardian ad litem from attending part of the final hearing. The New Hampshire Supreme Court determined the circuit court's written findings were insufficient to justify its downward deviation from the child support guidelines, and with regard to its alimony decision. Judgment was reversed in part and the matter remanded for further proceedings. The Court affirmed the circuit court in all other respects. View "In the Matter of Matthew & Kelly Routhier" on Justia Law

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Respondent, C.R. (ward) appealed a circuit court order appointing a guardian over her person, arguing that petitioner New Hampshire Hospital (NHH) failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she was incapacitated. She also argued the trial court’s findings of incapacity exceeded the scope of the pleadings and evidence at trial, thereby depriving her of notice and an opportunity to be heard. The ward suffered from schizoaffective disorder, and, in November 2020, was involuntarily admitted to NHH for a two-year period. NHH obtained emergency treatment authorization to provide the ward with psychiatric medication without her consent, and although her condition improved, the medication caused side effects that required a reduction in dosage. The ward declined to take any medication to treat the side effects or any alternative medication that would not cause the side effects. The emergency treatment authorization expired on January 4, 2021. In the two weeks before the February 2021 guardianship proceeding, the ward started exhibiting worsening thoughts that people were trying to target her, and her mood fluctuated more, spurring concerns that the current medication was insufficient. NHH filed the guardianship petition at issue here, alleging that, the guardianship was necessary. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the evidence presented at trial was sufficient for the trial court to have found the ward “is likely to suffer substantial harm due to an inability to provide for [her] personal needs for food, clothing, shelter, health care or safety or an inability to manage . . . her property or financial affairs.” Further, the Court found there was support in the record for the trial court's finding that guardianship was the least restrictive intervention for the ward. The Court found that the guardianship petition informed the ward the trial court could “impose additional orders as a result of the hearing,” but it did not inform her that NHH was asking the court to find her incapable of exercising her rights to marry or divorce, make a will or waive a will’s provisions, hold or obtain a motor vehicle operator’s license, initiate/defend/settle lawsuits, or make decisions concerning educational matters or training. Under these circumstances, the Supreme Court held that the ward did not receive the notice contemplated by RSA 464-A:5, I, as to those rights. Therefore, the Court vacated the guardianship order to the extent that it deprived her of those rights. The Court otherwise affirmed the order appointing a guardian over the person of the ward and remanded. View "In re Guardianship of C.R." on Justia Law

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The New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) appealed a circuit court order that dismissed a neglect petition brought against the respondent. DCYF argued the circuit court erred by: (1) relying upon criminal definitions of sexual assault and grooming; and (2) disregarding conduct that the child did not personally observe. Further, DCYF argued the evidence compelled a finding of neglect by the circuit court. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the circuit court committed legal error by basing its neglect determination, in part, upon whether the respondent’s conduct was criminal. Accordingly, the judgment was vacated and the case remanded. In addition, because the issue was likely to arise on remand, the Court clarified that RSA chapter 169-C did not require that a child personally observe conduct in order for a court to consider that conduct when determining neglect. View "In re C.C." on Justia Law

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Respondent-father Nedim Suljevic appealed a circuit court order denying his motion for the court to exercise temporary emergency jurisdiction over the parties’ custody dispute pursuant to New Hampshire’s Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), and granting petitioner-mother Senay Akin's petition to enforce the parties’ Turkish child custody order. The parties, who both have or previously had Turkish citizenship, were married in December 2010 and had a daughter the following year. According to Mother, the parties married in New Hampshire, and when she was pregnant with their daughter, she moved to Turkey while Father continued to reside in the United States. The parties’ daughter was born in Turkey in December 2011 and, until the events giving rise to this proceeding occurred in 2019, lived in Turkey continuously, attending school and receiving medical care there. The parties were divorced by a Turkish court in January 2015; the decree granted Mother sole custody of the child and allowed Father to have visitation with her. In 2019, Mother agreed that the daughter could spend July and August in the United States to visit Father. However, at the end of this two-month visit, Father refused to return the daughter to Mother. Mother made repeated overtures to Father for the daughter’s return, but he refused her entreaties. Mother accepted employment in Massachusetts during the 2020-2021 timeframe so that she could visit the daughter. During this time, Father continually rejected Mother’s requests for the daughter’s return to her custody. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and difficulty finding a suitable attorney, Mother did not bring a court action for the daughter’s return until filing the underlying petition for expedited enforcement of a foreign child custody order in April 2021. Father was served with Mother’s petition, and then filed his own motion at issue here. As grounds for his motion, Father argued Mother physically abused the daughter while in the Mother's custody. Mother objected to Father’s motion, asserting that he had “refused repeatedly to return [her] daughter” and had issued threats. Mother asserted that Father “should not be allowed to litigate in New Hampshire when the Turkish order controls custody.” After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld the circuit court's decision to deny Father's request, and to grant Mother's petition to enforce the parties' Turkish child custody order. View "In the Matter of Akin & Suljevic" on Justia Law

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Petitioner James Britton appealed two circuit court orders denying his request to terminate alimony, and granting the requests of respondent Patricia Britton for contempt for nonpayment of alimony and renewal of alimony. The New Hampshire Supreme Court found: (1) an obligation to pay alimony under the applicable statute automatically expired after three years unless renewed, modified, or extended; (2) a stipulation providing for a term of alimony beyond the three-year limit does not override the statutory expiration of the alimony obligation; (3) the original alimony award was first entered in 1985, and petitioner’s alimony obligations expired in 1988; (4) a court order approving a 2016 stipulation did not serve to renew or extend the 1985 alimony award. Therefore the trial court erred in finding petitioner in contempt of the 2016 stipulation and order. Petitioner did not have an obligation to pay alimony after the alimony award expired in 1988; as a result, the amounts petitioner paid in error based on the mistaken belief that the 1985 alimony order remained in effect were not required and were, therefore, voluntary. Absent fraud, “money voluntarily paid under a mistake of law cannot be recovered.” Accordingly, the trial court did not unsustainably exercise its discretion in declining to order reimbursement or credit of sums paid between 1988 and 2018. View "In the Matter of Britton" on Justia Law