Bar Leaders Meet With Judges on Family Division Issues
By: Lisa Wellman Ally
Lisa A. Wellman-Ally
At a recent Bench-Bar meeting, NH Bar Association officers met with Circuit Court Administrative Judge Edwin Kelly and Deputy Administrative Judge David King to discuss Circuit Court practice issues, with particular emphasis on the family division.
After receiving input from family law practitioners, the Bar leaders requested the meeting to relay concerns expressed by family law practitioners over perceived inconsistencies in policies and practices throughout the state. For example, family law practitioners have said that some self-represented parties have not been required to have their signatures witnessed in some courts, while other courts have rejected documents on which the signatures were not witnessed.
In addition, it has been reported that some courts are not accepting filings that are not completed on court forms, while other circuit courts allow parties and counsel to submit their own forms. Another inconsistency that Bar members have brought to the attention of the NHBA officers is in the amount of time courts take to process stipulations that have been agreed upon by the parties in advance.
The Circuit Court administrative judges and the Bar leaders agreed that achieving more consistency across the Family Division would expedite proceedings to the benefit of everyone.
As a practical matter, some practitioners have requested that court forms available on the state website be expandable, so that more information can be inserted when necessary. Another suggestion was to allow parties and counsel to submit their own forms, with a representation that the paragraphs mirror those in the Courtís forms. It was also suggested that domestic violence petitions be online, to allow easier access to them.
Some practitioners have called for other changes that were discussed with judges Kelly and King.
In their comments to NH Bar leaders, some family law practitioners indicated that eliminating the requirement that parties appear at structuring conferences and instead allowing counsel to appear telephonically would optimize court time.
Counsel and parties could submit a structuring conference form, and if there is agreement, a telephonic hearing could be conducted. Another suggestion was to eliminate attendance at First Appearance for parties represented by counsel. Instead, counsel and self-represented parties could agree on a mediator and self-schedule mediation. A court appearance would only be necessary if there was no agreement.
Finally, lawyers suggested that parties could opt out of mediation or agree to schedule mediation later in the process, especially in complex cases in which extensive discovery may be necessary.
Judges Kelly and King did not have an immediate response on some of these issues, but they appreciated the opportunity to receive this input.
As a Bar Association, we remain committed to making practice easier, to help maximize judicial resources. If any member of the Bar has any other concerns or issues regarding practice in the Circuit Courts, including Family, District and Probation Divisions, feel free to contact me or any of your NHBA officers.