The temporary hearing: A critical phase of your case

Continuing the series of You Tube videos, this edition discusses a very important hearing in your case: the temporary hearing. Watch to find out why, and what you need to do to be prepared and help achieve a good result.

Here are the forms you need for a divorce temporary hearing with children:

Thanks to Jeremy Collins at Ellipsis Entertainment, you were great to work with on this series!

Best Interest Considerations for a Parenting Schedule

New Hampshire’s “best interests” statute lists out several factors that the court should use to determine best interests. Many of the factors are little wordy, and as a whole the statute misses some of the very basic issues that must be considered when creating a parenting plan that is in the child’s best interest.

When I had the chance to reread a wonderful guide from the Massachusetts Association of Family and Conciliation Courts titled Planning for Shared Parenting: A Guide for Parents Living Apart, I loved the way that the factors were presented so simply. If I had the opportunity to rewrite RSA 461-A:6, I would use the AFCC's language:

  • The age, temperament and social adjustment of each child.
  • Any special needs of each child (medical, developmental, educational, emotional or social).
  • The quality of relationships between siblings and any other extended family members.
  • Each child’s daily schedule.
  • Caregiving responsibilities of each parent before the separation.
  • How you would like to share responsibilities both now and in the future.
  • Availability of each parent as a caregiver.
  • Potential flexibility of each parent’s work schedule.
  • Distance between each parent’s home, workplace and children’s schools.
  • The ability of parents to communicate and cooperate with each other.
  • The ability and willingness of each parent to learn basic caregiving skills such as feeding, changing and bathing a young child; preparing a child for daycare or school; taking responsibility for helping with homework; assessing and attending to each child’s special emotional and social needs.

Here are two good examples of why the basics can be so important in the determination of best interests:

1)      Both parents are good caregivers and share responsibilities for the children both before the separation and after. However, the parents live forty-five minutes from each other. Although each parent is able to adequately provide and care for the children, the distance that they live from each other prevents implementing a shared schedule during the school year. It usually is not feasible to have a parent making a forty-five minute commute with the children to school.

2)      Parents are both good parents and caregivers, each dedicated to the children and able to appropriately care for them. One parent works from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm Monday through Friday, with flexibility to work from home if the children are sick or have the day off from school. The other parent works second shift, from 2:00 pm to 10:00 pm with little flexibility to take time off from work or be available for the children during work hours. The children’s best interests require that they be with the parent who is available after school and in the evenings to prepare dinner, help with homework, and oversee baths and bedtime.

Neither of these scenarios endorses the parenting of one parent over the other or concludes that one parent is unfit; rather, it is a finding that one parent’s work schedule makes them more available or that the distance between the two homes is too much to allow for a shared schedule.

Of course, under RSA 461-A:6 courts have the ability to consider any other factor not listed that the court finds relevant, but I think that these factors from the AFCC provide a plainer picture of the considerations that a GAL might use to make recommendations, or the court might use in crafting a parenting plan

In Re Martin: NH Supreme Court weighs in on relocation and dispute resolution

 

The New Hampshire Supreme Court recently issued an opinion In the Matter of Patricia Martin and Michael Martin on the issues of relocation and language in the parenting plan requiring either party to seek neutral third party assistance in resolving disputes prior to filing with the court.  

Neutral Third Party Requirement

 

The court form standard parenting plans include language under the “methods for resolving disputes” paragraph that require parents to seek assistance in resolving disputes before heading to court. Specifically, the standard language reads:

In the future, if the parents have a disagreement about parenting issues, the parents shall try to work it out in the best interest of the child(ren). If the parents are unable to work out the disagreement, they shall seek the help of a neutral third party to assist them. Only if the parents are unable to work out the disagreement after seeking third party assistance will they ask the court to decide the issue.

On appeal, the mother argued that the court use of the word “shall” interferes with the parties’ rights to access the courts to resolve disputes. The court disagreed and stated that while the New Hampshire Constitution “provides that all citizens have a right to the redress of their actionable injuries … the article does not prohibit all impairments of the right of access to the courts.” In fact,  reasonable restrictions for the filing of lawsuits do not automatically violate the constitutional guarantee to speedy justice.

 

            The court reasoned that the third party assistance provision did not impinge on the mother’s rights because, as the court stated: “It imposes no specific requirement that the assistance of a neutral third party must be of any particular nature or duration or even that the third party must have actually provided assistance. It permits either party to seek judicial relief, as long as that party demonstrates that the parents first sought the assistance of a neutral third party.”

 

            In practice, the discussion in the Martin case is something to keep in mind when entering into a parenting plan. If you do not want to restrict yourself or the other parent in such a way, you need to find alternative language to agree upon or persuade the court to order. Also, if you all ready have this language in your parenting plan, you are required to seek out some manner of neutral third party assistance to try to resolve the dispute before you may file. If you do not, your petition may be dissmissed until you comply with the requirement.

 

Relocation

 

Relocation is a hot topic these days. Families, often for jobs, are on the move. New Hampshire law provides that a parent seeking permission to relocate bears the initial burden of demonstrating that the relocation is for a legitimate purpose and that the proposed location is reasonable in light of that purpose. Should the moving party meet that burden, the other parent must prove that the proposed relocation is not in the best interests of the children. The trial court had denied the mother’s request to relocate, finding that the mother’s purpose for moving was to

avoid ongoing interaction with the father and to “get away from [him].”

 

On appeal the mother argued that the statutory term “legitimate” means she only need demonstrate a “subjectively legitimate reason” for relocating and that the proposed relocation must only be objectively reasonable in light of that purpose. The court never answered whether this proposed interpretation of the statutory word “legitimate” was proper because the mother’s argument failed even under her own proposed interpretation. Even if the court accepted the mother’s definition of “legitimate” as a subjective determination, upon the facts of the case, she could not prevail because the trial court had found that the move was not a legitimate purpose, a legal conclusion that she did not challenge.

 

What does this mean? The court left the discussion of the meaning of a legitimate purpose for another day.

                                         

Coparenting your children

One of the most important things that parents in separate households can do for their children is cooperatively co-parent. Successfully co-parenting allows both parents to be involved in a child's day to day life. I recently came across a useful article published by the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension titled "Co-parenting after Divorce."

If you are currently going through a divorce or parenting case, take the opportunity to discuss your parenting rights and responsibilities, and the roles that each of you will play. Work those discussions into your parenting plan. The article provides a detailed chart with questions about household expectations, education and moral upbringing, peers and social considerations and health care decisions that you and the other parent can use to start the discussions.

Additionally, consider the road that you and the other parent do not want to go down. One of the most important aspects of co-parenting is keeping the children out of the middle. The article points out that:

Problems may develop if parents send messages to each other through their children. Problems also arise when a parent talks negatively about the other parent. Children may feel guilty and unsure of their parents’ love when they’re caught in the middle.

If a parent asks about a former spouse, children may report that things are fine, even if they’re not. Or children may say things to make one of the parents feel bad. Again, don’t use your children by putting them in the middle. If you want to know something about your ex-spouse, ask that person yourself. 

Explore these behaviors that you and the other parent agree you will both avoid, and work any agreements into the parenting plan as well.

 Finally, remember that you and the other parent probably will not agree on every issue. 

Accept that you and your ex-spouse may differ on key parenting issues. Try to work on finding common ground, especially on the most important issues. Communicating about a few issues is better than not having communication at all.