Until 2012, the burden of proof to terminate a guardianship of a child was placed upon the parent to show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the substitution or supplementation of parental care and supervision was no longer necessary to provide for the child’s essential physical and safety and that terminating the guardianship would not adversely impact the child’s psychological well-being. Then, the Supreme Court issued its opinion on In the Matter of Reena D.  which implemented a two-tier standard for fit and unfit parents. The above standard still applied in cases where parents had contested a guardianship and the guardianship was granted over their objection.

However, parents that consented to a guardianship had an easier path to termination of the guardianship. Parents who consented retained their status as a “fit parent” and were entitled to the Troxel v. Granville presumption that a fit parent acts in their child’s best interests. Thus, the standard for termination of a guardianship established by consent shifts the burden to the guardian to prove by clear and convincing evidence “that substitution or supplementation of parental care and supervision” is “necessary to provide for the essential physical and safety needs of the minor” and that terminating the guardianship will “adversely affect the minor’s psychological well-being.” The New Hampshire Supreme Court juxtaposed this standard with a guardianship established over a parents’ objection pointing out that the Troxel presumption is overcome during the establishment of a contested guardianship.

            The New Hampshire Legislature recently updated the guardianship statute to implement a new standard for termination of a guardianship if the guardian is the grandparent of the child. Effective January 1, 2018, the statute provides that if guardianship over a child was granted to a grandparent as the result of the parent’s substance abuse or dependence, the standard for termination of the guardianship is:

the burden of proof shall be on the parent to demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that substitution or supplementation of parental care and supervision is no longer necessary to provide for the essential physical and safety needs of the minor and termination of the guardianship will not adversely affect the minor’s psychological well-being.

This standard applies whether the guardianship was contested or uncontested. With this change, a fit parent who agrees to a guardianship because of the parent’s substance abuse or dependence will have the same standard for terminating the guardianship as any parent whose children are under guardianship over their objection. At first glance, this change appears ripe for constitutional challenge. The fact that a parent has a substance abuse problem does not negate their rights under Troxel. A parent with a substance problem can still have the insight to act in their child’s best interests by finding alternative care for the child while they seek treatment.  

New Hampshire collaborative practice employs an interdisciplinary model, which is fancy for saying that the professional team includes attorneys, a coach and a financial neutral. When the topic of hiring a coach comes up, I sometimes receive this feedback:

  • Why do we need a coach?
  • I already have a therapist, isn’t that the same thing?
  • It’s another expense in the process. 
  • Let’s see how it goes without one and we can always hire one later. 

I intended to write a thorough and thoughful post about the need for a coach, and then found this article Do You Really Need a Divorce Coach in the Collaborative Process? by Helene Taylor. I really can’t say it better myself, and it answers all the frequently asked questions. It’s a must read if you are considering a collaborative divorce. I especially love her explanation of the difference between a therapist and a divorce coach:

A therapist is someone you bring your luggage to and she helps you open it up and decipher the contents; a divorce coach is someone you bring your luggage to and, without opening it, she helps you carry it across the street.

From my attorney perspective, a coach helps me do my job better and reach the end result quicker. The coach, who is far better trained in the emotional aspects of a divorce than I am, can facilitate the emotional discussions and keep lines of communication between the parties open so that the legal discussions can be more productive.

For more information about collaborative divorce, check out the information video from the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. You can also download a free Collaborative Divorce Knowledge Kit

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

Blog posts have been sparse lately, and here’s why: Administrative Order Number 2011-03. I’ve posted several times about the impending demise of the GAL fund, and it is finally coming to fruition. Judge Kelly’s administrative order, issued on April 19, 2011, requires GALs in  all GAL fund  marital cases (this excludes abuse/neglect, TPR, guardianship and CHINs) to complete investigations, file final reports, final billing and withdrawals by June 1, 2011.

And let me tell you, that is a ridiculous amount of work to complete in just over a month. It feels like finals week in college or law school, only worse. Instead of finishing up five term papers, I have thirteen reports. It is extremely frustrating to be thrust involuntarily into such a situation because the court system cannot be properly funded by the legislature. 

In the end though, it is the children of indigent New Hampshire Families who will suffer the consequences. They will no longer have a voice in the courtroom, and judges will have to sift through pro se he said she said in trying to determine a child’s best interest. And that’s a shame for New Hampshire.

I was reading a blog post today by photographer Samantha Warren at Samantha Warren Weddings in which she mused on a tweet by Dita Von Teese that pondered "Did you all know that I only tell you the fun & glamorous things that I do, not the boring & unpleasant things?"  Sam writes in response:

Ms. Teese’s tweet summed up one of the significant snags I see with social media, and that is that while you may put your life out there through Facebook, Twitter and blogging, it’s life filtered, often for a particular purpose. In musical terms, while social media claims to be a jam session, the control we have over our image through its technology makes it a best of collection.

So true! Most of us using social media from Facebook to Twitter chat and tweet about the happy goings on from our beach vacations to a new job.  However, mix a stressful divorce or parenting rights and responsibilities matter with social media and our emotions can often get the best of us. Instead of the happy face usually broadcast to the world, the anger and hurt rises up and reaches out through our fingertips, sendind out status updates or tweets best kept to ourselves.

Time Magazine’s recent article, Facebook and Divorce: Airing the Dirty Laundry, warns domestic relations litigants over the dangers of social media during litigation. Post a picture of your new BMW motorcycle after claiming the poorhouse? Tweeting about your crazy Saturday night party when you were supposed to be caring for the children? Updating your status about your date night with your new girlfriend, before you have separated from your wife? While you are posting about these things, opposing counsel is downloading your personal information from Facebook and Twitter and preparing to use it in court.

The moral of the story? Think before you post. Refrain from commenting about your spouse, his lawyer, the judge, the guardian ad litem. Do not post pictures of any content that can be used against you in court, including partying, gifts to or from new signifcant others or places you should not be. You’ll be better off for it, and your lawyer will thank you.