Bar News - January 4, 2008
Strafford County Family Division To Open January 17, 2008
On January 17, the Strafford County Family Division (SCFD) will open at two locations: the Dover Family Division, located at Dover District Court and the Rochester Family Division, located at the Strafford County Building. With the opening of the Strafford County Family Division, eight out of ten counties will have family court locations.
Suzanne Doyle (SCFD Regional Clerk), Brigette Siff Holmes (FD Administrator), Suzanne Zielfelder (Rochester FD Case Manager), Maryann Palmer (Rochester FD Dep. Clerk), Kim Hede (Rochester FD), Laura Delisle (Rochester FD), Pam Alonzi (Dover FD), Judge Stephen Roberts (Dover FD), Master Robert Foley (Dover FD), Shanna Pinheiro (Rochester FD), Darlene Foster (Dover FD Case Manager), Brandi Parker-Brown (Dover FD), Cindy Houle (Dover FD Dep. Clerk). Not in picture: Master Stephanie Nute (Rochester FD), Judge Susan Ashley (Rochester FD), Marianne Cahill (Dover FD Monitor), Carrie Nikolas-Gagne (Rochester FD), Carolyn Melewski (Rochester FD).
Judges, Marital Masters, Hearing Officer, and Court Staff
Each of the two Strafford County Family Division locations will be served by a Family Division Judge, a child support hearing officer, and a Family Division Marital Master.
Marital Master Stephanie Nute will join the Rochester Family Division at the Strafford County Building location and Judge Susan Ashley will sit there four days a week. Marital Master Robert Foley will transfer from the Brentwood Family Division to join the Dover Family Division four days a week, and will remain at Brentwood one day a week. Judge Stephen Roberts will sit in the Dover Family Division one to two days a week. The Child Support Hearing Officer for both locations will be attorney Brian Kenyon, currently serving in this role in Rockingham County.
SCFD staff will include a number of familiar faces as well as some new additions to the court family. One familiar face for many area practitioners will be the SCFD Regional Clerk, Suzanne Doyle. Suzanne served for many years as the marital department supervisor at Strafford County Superior Court and most recently as Deputy Clerk of Strafford County Superior Court. Other familiar faces will be the Strafford County Superior Court Marital Department staff, as well as the area District Court juvenile case specialists, and one transferring staff member from Strafford County Probate Court.
The jurisdiction of each location is established by RSA 490-D:4. Beginning January 17, 2008, all new or brought forward Strafford County family cases (i.e., divorce, separation, parenting, abuse and neglect, juvenile delinquencies and CHINS, termination of parental rights, domestic violence, minor guardianships, and DCYF-related adoption) will be filed in Strafford County Family Division. Likewise, all existing matters, whether open or closed, will fall within the jurisdiction of the family division.
The Family Division will assume jurisdiction of all Strafford County divorce, parenting, legal separation and related cases from Strafford Superior Court. Therefore, all such cases, regardless of where they are along the legal process continuum will be transferred to one of the four new Family Division locations. All juvenile and domestic violence cases which are in process will also transfer to the respective new Family Division location. All pending cases of abuse and neglect, juvenile delinquency and CHINS are currently being scheduled - or rescheduled - in one of the four SCFD locations for hearings on or after January 17. Family Division case types from the Probate Courts (termination of parental rights, guardianship of minors, and DCYF related adoptions) will be transferred to the respective Family Division if the majority of a case has not yet been heard in the probate court, or if justice otherwise requires..
Child Support Referee Project
In 2005, in an effort to expedite the processing of child support matters, the Family Division launched a Child Support Referee Project in Rockingham County. The hearing officer (sometimes called a Referee) is a lawyer appointed by the Family Division Administrative Judge, pursuant to RSA 490-D: 1. Hearing officers are authorized to conduct hearings and submit recommendations for orders on issues of paternity establishment, child support, medical support, and tax exemptions, as well as registrations of court orders from other states. Setting the child support matter before a hearing officer typically results in a shorter waiting time for a hearing date and faster processing of orders once it has been heard. The Child Support Hearing Officer for Strafford County Family Division is Brian Kenyon, who also hears cases in Rockingham County.
Differences in Processto Anticipate
For parties and counsel who have not yet appeared in a Family Division court, there are a number of court processes which will be new to them.
Except in circumstances where the parties allege sufficient facts to require a Temporary Hearing, First Appearance is the first hearing scheduled in Family Division after a parenting petition or petition for divorce by parties with children is filed. First Appearance is scheduled within two to four weeks of return of service. At First Appearance, parties are instructed by a Family Division Judge or Marital Master regarding the importance of focusing on the needs of their children during the divorce or separation process.
At First Appearance, pro se parents who have reached a full agreement as to all issues in their case are scheduled for case management services. The case manager meets with the parties to assist them in completing the necessary documents for their particular circumstances.
Mediation is a critically important tool in the Family Division approach to divorce and parenting petitions so that both parents are involved in the important decision-making that is required when families separate or divorce. Parents who have not yet agreed on all issues prior to First Appearance are typically scheduled for mediation. Sometimes, even after First Appearance or in advance of mediation, parties will need a temporary hearing. In these cases, a motion stating the reasons for the hearing must be filed. The court, in its discretion, can order a temporary hearing if it appears that the circumstances of a particular case require a hearing.
Mediators appointed in Family Division cases must be certified to mediate family cases by the NH Mediation Board pursuant to RSA 328-C and thereafter obtain a mediation contract with the judicial branch. Mediators are needed for Strafford County. If you are interested in becoming certified and would like to accept cases in Strafford County, please contact Karen Borgstrom, Esq., ADR Coordinator at 603-271-6418.
To Sum Up...
Prior to opening the four SCFD locations, the expansion team provided information to the local bar, service agencies and law enforcement in order to anticipate and resolve any potential difficulties as these new courts open. While it is impossible to plan for every circumstance, every effort has been made to ensure a smooth transition from the existing courts to the new Family Division locations. The Family Division Administrative Office welcomes comments and questions as the Family Division continues to expand statewide. More information about Family Division can be found at the Judicial Branch Web site, www.courts.state.nh.us. Go to http://www.nhbar.org/publications/StraffordCountyStaff.asp to find the new staff listings.