New Hampshire Bar Journal
2005 Winter, 38.
Report of the Judicial Branch Family Division Implementation Committee
New Hampshire Bar Journal Winter 2005Volume 45, Number 4Report of the Judicial Branch Family Division Implementation CommitteeBy Hon. Linda S. Dalianis, ChairINTRODUCTION
The work of the Judicial Branch Family Division Implementation Committee, set out in this report, represents the culmination of a longstanding discussion about how the court system could best serve New Hampshire families in need. The Committee is grateful to the judges, marital masters, lawmakers and staff who have made it possible for us to come forward with a plan that will have such an important impact on the men, women and children of our state.
New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice John T. Broderick Jr. brought the project to the forefront of decision-making this year and we are grateful both for his firm belief in the process, and for the backing he received from the members of the Supreme Court. Gov. Craig Benson's immediate support for legislation that allowed for expansion of the Family Division statewide was critical to the project becoming a reality, and we thank him for his commitment. We commend members of the House and Senate for their willingness to take on this challenging task for the sake of New Hampshire families.
Superior Court Chief Justice Robert J. Lynn, and the members of the Superior Court bench, are owed our thanks as well for their willingness to allow us to draw on the valuable resources of the Superior Court to provide enhanced court services to New Hampshire families. We believe that the public interest will be well served by these changes, which would not have been possible without the level of cooperation we saw throughout state government to make the statewide family division a reality. We are grateful as well to the district and probate courts for their contributions and ongoing enthusiasm for strengthening the family division. We would be remiss if we failed to acknowledge the dedicated efforts of the family division staff in Grafton and Rockingham Counties; without their efforts, we would not have had a successful model upon which to build.
No report can be completed without valuable staff support. Gary Fowler, from the Administrative Office of the Courts, provided us with the analysis of judicial and clerical time needed to staff the expanded family division, which helped to guide our decisions about a statewide implementation plan. Susan Duncan, senior legislative aide in the New Hampshire Senate, attended our meetings and created a careful record of our work which provided needed direction for busy Committee members. Howard Zibel, general counsel to the Supreme Court, provided us with the legislative guidance we needed to formalize our work. Laura Kiernan, the court system's public information officer, edited and polished our report.
The Committee expresses its appreciation to all who contributed to this report. Through their work, they will have helped create a system in which New Hampshire families can resolve the difficult issues in their lives, fairly and efficiently, and then move on. That is our goal.
Reduce the Adversarial Nature of Proceedings Involving Families
The legislatively articulated goals for the JBFD include the aspiration that alternative dispute resolution be utilized to reduce the adversarial nature of proceedings involving families. The working group spent a considerable amount of time devising and reviewing a plan to introduce ADR into marital cases involving children. The plan, still in the process of development, will require the speedy scheduling of these matters for a case management meeting with a specially trained case manager, followed by a session in front of a "referee" in which the parties will be given an opportunity to address their respective positions concerning the amount of child support.
It is the goal of this new process to move these extremely important matters through the court system in a far speedier and less adversarial way. Referees and case managers will in part be funded through Federal IV-D funds. In addition to this new process, the administrators of the existing family division are working to enhance the use of mediation and neutral case evaluation, as well as utilizing creative means of addressing the many juvenile issues affecting children and families across the state.
Locate Family Division Sites in Areas Geographically Accessible to Families
Chapter 152 of the 1995 Laws of New Hampshire provided that "the goals of the Family Division are the respectful treatment of all citizens by justices, marital masters and other family division staff, the prompt and fair resolution of family issues by justices and marital masters specially selected and trained to deal effectively with such issues, the use of alternative dispute resolution to reduce the adversarial nature of proceedings involving families, and the assignment of all family matters of a single family to one family division justice or marital master located in a Family Division Court that is geographically accessible to the family."
The Committee considered the legislative intent of the Family Division as indicated by this goal statement. Geographic accessibility was obviously a keystone of the legislation creating the Family Division as well as the study committees' recommendations. Families in crisis require easy access to the court system, which also reduces the expense to all parties who no longer have to travel long distances to court themselves or pay their legal representatives to do so. The Committee, after reviewing existing district and superior/probate court locations, recommends 21 sites in addition to the existing eight sites in Grafton and Rockingham counties. We have reviewed the facilities and recognized that some of...