Justia Family Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
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
In re C.O.; In re G.L.
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
T.P. v. B.P.
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
In re H.J.
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
In re O.D.
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
In the Matter of Steven Hoyt and Lesley Hoyt
Petitioner Steven Hoyt appealed a circuit court order reinstating his alimony obligation to respondent Lesley Hoyt, and granting an upward adjustment to his child support payments. The parties had three children. Two were over age 18. The oldest child withdrew from college and moved back in with the respondent due to a medical condition. The middle child attends college but lives with the respondent while school is not in session. The parties’ youngest child was in high school, and primarily resided with respondent. Petitioner filed a request seeking a reduction to his child support obligation because the middle child had recently turned 18. However, in June 2016, prior to receiving approval from the trial court, petitioner reduced the amount of his monthly child support payment. Thereafter, respondent requested alimony. Prior to the final hearing, respondent filed a one-page proposed order seeking to increase child support for the youngest child to $1,100 per month and requesting alimony in the amount of $600 per month. Petitioner requested that the current child support payment be reduced to $982 per month. Accompanying petitioner’s proposed order was a detailed request for factual findings along with legal citation in support of his position. The trial court ultimately renewed alimony and upwardly adjusted the child support obligation. Based on the record, the New Hampshire found no abuse of discretion in its judgment, and affirmed. View "In the Matter of Steven Hoyt and Lesley Hoyt" on Justia Law
In the Matter of McAndrews and Woodson
Petitioner Eric McAndrews appealed an order recommended by a Marital Master (DalPra, M.) and approved by the Circuit Court which dismissed his petition to modify a parenting plan on inconvenient forum grounds. The parenting plan pertained to petitioner’s child with whom he shares custody with respondent Sachet Woodson. On appeal, petitioner argued that the trial court erred in dismissing his petition because it conducted an improper and incomplete inconvenient forum analysis pursuant to RSA 458-A:18 (Supp. 2017), a provision of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). In vacating the circuit court's order, the New Hampshire Supreme Court found the order lacked a meaningful discussion of the factors that it relied upon in reaching its conclusion and its failure to address each specific factor required by the UCCJEA was untenable and unreasonable to the prejudice of petitioner’s case, and, therefore, its decision that Indiana is the more convenient forum constituted an unsustainable exercise of its discretion. View "In the Matter of McAndrews and Woodson" on Justia Law
In re Y.L.
At issue before the New Hampshire Supreme Court in this matter was whether, under New Hampshire’s adoption statute, petitioner, J.P., an unmarried male, could become the adoptive father of Y.L., an adult female, without altering the legal parental status of Y.L.’s birth mother. Contrary to the finding of the Circuit Court, the Supreme Court believed that he could and, consequently, reversed and remanded. View "In re Y.L." on Justia Law
In re J.H.; In re A.H.
Father challenged the Circuit Court’s authority to hold a hearing to determine his parental fitness to regain custody of his children, J.H. and A.H., following the dismissal of the neglect petitions filed by the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) against him. Father also appealed the trial court’s dispositional order imposing conditions on him before his children could be returned to his custody, after finding that the children were neglected by Mother but not by Father. Father asserted that, upon the dismissal of the neglect petitions against him, he was presumed to be a fit parent. Because he was not found to have abused or neglected his children in the adjudicatory phase of the RSA chapter 169-C proceedings, the New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed that Father was a presumptively fit parent at that stage of the proceedings. The Court disagreed, however, that the court was required to immediately return the children to Father’s custody. Instead, the Court concluded that holding an additional hearing to determine Father’s parental fitness did not violate his constitutionally protected fundamental right to parent. Although Father regained his presumption of fitness once the neglect petitions against him were dismissed, “parental rights are not absolute, but are subordinate to the State’s parens patriae power, and must yield to the welfare of the child.” Here, the neglect finding against Mother and the fact that Father and Mother lived together constituted “unusual and serious” circumstances that justified the court’s continued intervention in the relationship between Father and his children. The Supreme Court affirmed the Circuit Court's judgment. View "In re J.H.; In re A.H." on Justia Law