Justia Family Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
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Petitioner appeals a circuit court order denying her petition for guardianship of her great-nephew, a minor child, pursuant to RSA chapter 463 (2018 & Supp. 2020). On appeal, petitioner challenged the circuit court’s determination that she could not obtain guardianship because the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) already had legal custody of the child as a result of ongoing abuse and neglect proceedings. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that an award of legal custody pursuant to RSA chapter 169-C did not preclude the appointment of a guardian pursuant to RSA chapter 463. Accordingly, judgment was vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Guardianship of B.C." on Justia Law

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Respondent Dustin Morris (Father) appealed a circuit court decision to award “custody and school placement” of his biological child to petitioner Alli Morris, Father’s ex-wife and Child’s stepmother (Stepmother). Stepmother did not file a brief or memorandum of law in this appeal; the New Hampshire Supreme Court proceeded on Father’s brief only. Because the Supreme Court concluded the circuit court erred in applying solely a best-interests-of-the-child standard to determine the parental rights and responsibilities between Father and Stepmother with respect to Child, judgment was reversed and remanded. View "In the Matter of Alli Morris and Dustin Morris" on Justia Law

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A New Hampshire circuit court issued an adjudicatory order finding that G.B., a minor, had been neglected, but that respondents, G/B/'s adoptive parents, were not at fault for the neglect. Subsequently, the court issued a dispositional order awarding legal custody of G.B. to the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) and requiring DCYF to seek placement for G.B. in a residential treatment facility. DCYF appealed both orders, and G.B.’s guardian ad litem (GAL), Court Appointed Special Advocates of New Hampshire (CASA), joined in appealing the dispositional order. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the circuit court erred as a matter of law when it ruled that the respondents did not neglect G.B. The Court further concluded that, although the circuit court did not err by ruling G.B. a neglected child and ordering G.B.’s placement in a residential treatment facility, it failed to identify legally permissible primary and concurrent case plans in its dispositional order. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "In re G.B." on Justia Law

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Defendant, W.C. appealed a domestic violence final order of protection, arguing the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that his conduct constituted a credible, present threat to the safety of plaintiff, L.C., because one of the incidents of abuse upon which the trial court relied was directed at her aunt. Defendant also argued the trial court unsustainably exercised its discretion by issuing protective orders that were broader than necessary to bring about cessation of the abuse. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the order. View "L.C. v. W.C." on Justia Law

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Respondent Jeffrey Bart (Husband) appealed, and petitioner Lura Sanborn (Wife) cross-appealed, a final decree of divorce. Husband also appealed the trial court’s order, issued after this appeal was filed, granting Wife’s motion to enforce the temporary decree as to the payment of property taxes on the marital home. The parties were married in 2005 and had one child. Wife worked as a librarian at a private school; Husband was involved in the operation of a family-owned candy business (GSCS) established by his grandfather in 1927. At the time the final decree was issued, Husband was the controlling member of two limited liability companies that owned and operated GSCS and the property on which one of its stores was located. CMJ Associates, LLC (CMJ) was the entity that owned the real property housing one of GSCS’s stores and several residential apartments. Husband argued the trial court erred in: (1) issuing a child support order that provided for “automatic modifications of child support in the future”; (2) adjusting the property distribution to account for marital funds used by Husband for his legal fees, but failing to make the same adjustment for Wife; and (3) modifying the final decree after an appeal had been filed. Wife argued the trial court erred in: (1) determining Husband’s gross income for purposes of child support; (2) dividing the marital estate unequally in favor of Husband; and (3) awarding final alimony with an amount and duration inconsistent with its own findings. After review of Husband's arguments, the New Hampshire Supreme Court: (1) affirmed as to the "escalation clause" allowing automatic modifications of child support; (2) vacated the property settlement for reconsideration; and (3) agreed with Wife that the order was a "was a status quo preservation ruling" within the trial court’s jurisdiction. As to Wife's arguments, the Supreme Court: (1) affirmed as to the calculation of Husband's income; (2) affirmed as to the division of the marital estate; and (3) concurred that the alimony award appeared to be inconsistent with some of the trial court's factual findings. Judgment was therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "In the Matter of Lura Sanborn & Jeffrey Bart" on Justia Law

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Father appealed a circuit court order terminating his parental rights over his minor child, R.H., on the ground that he failed to correct, within 12 months, the conditions that led to the circuit court’s finding under RSA chapter 169-C that R.H. was neglected by R.H.’s mother (Mother), who had sole physical custody of the child. This appeal presented a narrow question for the New Hampshire Supreme Court's review: when does the 12-month period to correct the conditions of neglect or abuse under RSA 170-C:5, III begin to run against a non-accused, non-custodial parent? On appeal, Father argued the 12-month period did not begin until a non-accused, non-custodial parent was provided actual notice of the neglect or abuse finding. The New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) countered that the 12-month statutory period begins to run from the date of that finding, regardless of actual notice. Because the Supreme Court agreed with Father that the 12-month period begins when a non-accused, non-custodial parent receives constitutionally-adequate notice of both the abuse or neglect finding and the possible impact on parental rights of a failure to correct the conditions leading to that finding, it vacated and remanded. View "In re R.H." on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, the mother of S.A., B.T., and A.G., the father of A.G., and the father of S.A. appealed a circuit court order terminating their parental rights over their children because they each failed to correct the conditions that led to a finding of neglect within twelve months of that finding. The Vermont Supreme Court determined the trial court erred with respect to the termination of the father of S.A.'s parental rights: under the circumstances presented, the Supreme Court held that the trial court erred by finding that the father failed to correct the conditions that led to the neglect finding within twelve months of that finding. That judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. The trial court's orders with respect to the other parents was affirmed. View "In re S.A." on Justia Law

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M.M.’s (juvenile) Father challenged the superior court’s refusal of his appeal of a circuit court decision on a neglect petition brought by the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF). Father argued that the amendment to RSA 169-C:28 (effective July 1, 2020), eliminating the right to appeal final dispositional orders in abuse and neglect proceedings to the superior court for de novo review, did not apply to his case. Father also appealed the circuit court’s final dispositional order directly to the New Hampshire Supreme Court pursuant to that amended statute, arguing that the circuit court should not have considered and issued orders on DCYF’s neglect petition and, alternatively, that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding of neglect. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the July 2020 amendment to RSA 169-C:28 applied to Father’s case, barring his appeal to the superior court for de novo review. In its direct review of Father’s appeal of the circuit court’s final dispositional order, the Court concluded the circuit court did not err in considering and issuing orders on DCYF’s neglect petition. The circuit court’s finding of neglect against Father was also affirmed. View "In re M.M." on Justia Law

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Respondent Ryanne Earley appealed a final divorce decree awarding petitioner Wm. Michael Earley part of her interest in an irrevocable life insurance trust established by her parents. She argued the trial court erred by classifying her interest in the trust as marital property subject to equitable division under RSA 458:16-a (Supp. 2020). Because the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the trial court’s decision was contrary to RSA 564-B:5-502 (2019), it reversed in part, vacated the remainder of the property division determination, and remanded for further proceedings. View "In the Matter of Wm. & Ryanne Earley" on Justia Law

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Defendant Bryan Luikart appealed a circuit court order which imposed a portion of his suspended sentence. Defendant argue the trial court erred in finding that the State met its burden of proving he violated the good behavior condition of his suspended sentence by committing witness tampering. In 2018, defendant pled guilty to various charges and was sentenced to 90 days’ incarceration, suspended for a period of two years. Conditions on defendant’s suspended sentence included that defendant “complete [a] batterer’s intervention program and be of good behavior.” Following his sentencing, defendant enrolled in his first batterer’s intervention program, but his participation in the program ended on January 24, 2019, for reasons irrelevant to this appeal. As a result of defendant’s departure from the program, the State moved to impose defendant’s suspended sentence on February 8. Defendant enrolled in a second batterer’s intervention program on February 19, and the State withdrew its motion to impose. Three days later, defendant sent an e-mail to his ex-wife. On March 7, the State filed a new motion to impose defendant’s suspended sentence. After a hearing, the trial court granted the State’s motion to impose, finding the evidence before it “sufficient to grant the State’s motion, at least generally.” The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that, even when viewed in the light most favorable to the State, the evidence adduced at the motion hearing failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence, that defendant committed witness tampering. Witness tampering was the only theory advanced by the State in support of its motion alleging that defendant violated his condition to be of good behavior, and Supreme Court did not interpret the trial court’s ruling as having independently found, from the evidence before it, that the defendant’s behavior amounted to another type of criminal conduct which violated the good behavior condition. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "New Hampshire v. Luikart" on Justia Law