Justia Family Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
In re G.F.
Father appealed a circuit court order terminating his parental rights over his minor child, G.F., on the ground that he failed to correct, within twelve months, the conditions that led to the court’s finding under RSA chapter 169-C (2022) that G.F. was neglected by G.F.’s mother. In January 2020, father did not attend mother’s adjudicatory or dispositional hearings. Mother entered into a consent agreement acknowledging that neglect occurred due to her drug use. At the dispositional hearing, the circuit court adopted a case plan and dispositional orders, which also applied to father. Father was not served with these documents. At the three-month review hearing, father's counsel received the case plan, dispositional orders and related discovery. Two days after the six-month review hearing, father was arrested for felony second degree assault and other domestic violence charges involving his then girlfriend and her minor child. He pled guilty to at least two of the charges. In September 2020, a nine-month review hearing was held. In January 2021, the trial court held the first permanency hearing in the neglect case while father was incarcerated. The trial court found father was not in compliance with dispositional orders. The trial court changed the permanency plan from reunification to adoption and specified that “DCYF is no longer required to provide reasonable efforts to facilitate reunification between [G.F.] and mother [and] father, but shall make reasonable efforts to finalize the permanency plan.” In September 2021, the circuit court held a second permanency hearing; again the court found father was not in compliance with the dispositional orders and concluded G.F. could not be safely returned to his care. DCYF filed a new petition to terminate the father’s parental rights in October 2021. In December 2021, the father was released from incarceration. In February 2022, the circuit court granted DCYF’s petition to terminate the father’s parental rights. Assuming without deciding that, during the nine months in which DCYF was ordered by the court to make reasonable efforts to reunify G.F. with his father, those efforts were reasonable, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that DCYF failed to meet its burden because the court did not order DCYF to make such efforts for the remaining three months. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s order terminating the father’s parental rights over G.F. View "In re G.F." on Justia Law
Petition of Louis Lafasciano
Petitioner Louis Lafasciano petitioned the New Hampshire Supreme Court for review of a decision of respondent, New Hampshire Retirement System Board of Trustees (Board), that rescinded a previously-granted termination of the survivorship benefit of his former spouse, intervenor Margaret Murray, in his state pension. At the time he retired, petitioner named intervenor, then his spouse, as his survivor beneficiary, thereby reducing the amount of the retirement benefit he received during his lifetime. Under the law then in effect, a retired member who designated his or her spouse as survivor beneficiary could terminate that designation during the spouse’s lifetime only if the parties divorced and the spouse remarried. Petitioner and intervenor divorced in 2014. In 2016, the New Hampshire legislature amended RSA 100-A:13 to provide an additional circumstance under which a retired member could terminate a previously-elected spousal survivorship benefit. In November 2016, petitioner requested that intervenor be removed as his primary death beneficiary, stating that the two had been “divorced for two years now, and since the change in state legislation this past August [he] believe[d] that [his] request [could] now be honored.” In July 2020, NHRS informed the petitioner that his 2016 request for termination of his survivor benefit option had been processed in error. It further informed him that NHRS would be “rescinding that termination and reinstituting the 100% joint and survivor option you originally selected for your former spouse” and would be “instituting recoupment proceedings to recover the cumulative pop-up amount that has been paid to you since December 2016.” Petitioner appealed the Board's decision. The Supreme Court found that petitioner did not have a unilateral right to revoke his election of a spousal survivorship benefit. "[A]bsent his former spouse’s remarriage, he may terminate such an election only if his divorce decree 'provides that the former spouse shall renounce any claim to a retirement allowance under RSA 100-A.'" Because the divorce decree here did not require intervenor to renounce her claim to a survivorship benefit, petitioner could not terminate the benefit under the statute. Judgment was thus affirmed. View "Petition of Louis Lafasciano" on Justia Law
In re N.T.
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
In the Matter of Borelli
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
S.C. v. G.C.
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
In re J.D.; In re A.D.
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
In the Matter of Colsia
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
In the Matter of Matthew & Kelly Routhier
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
In re Guardianship of C.R.
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
In re C.C.
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