Bar News - August 19, 2015
NH Legislature Passes New Statutes in Family Law
By: Honey Hastings
This was a busy year in the NH Legislature for family law legislation. The governor recently signed seven bills related to family law practice and procedure, some of which have already taken effect; others are effective Jan. 1, 2016.
The 2016 session may be even busier, as nine bills have been retained for further study, including ones that would make significant changes to alimony and child support laws.
The most significant new law is Chapter 75 of the Laws of 2015, which recodifies the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act to comply with the United States’ obligations under the 2007 Hague Convention on Maintenance. Once in effect, this treaty will provide a way to collect child support internationally. Federal legislation requires all states to enact this statute (the 2008 UIFSA Amendments) as a condition of continuing to receive federal funds for state child support programs.
The remedies will not be in effect immediately, as two steps in the Hague adoption process remain: once all states have passed the legislation, the United States will deposit its instrument of ratification with the depositary for the treaty. After that, this treaty will take effect between the US and other countries that have also adopted it. To date, these countries include most of Europe.
For details on this Hague Convention, see www.hcch.net.
Two of the new state laws have a divorce or parenting component and a provision in another area of family law: Chapter 23 and Chapter 235.
Chapter 23 on guardian ad litem (GAL) reports and definition of incapacity inserts in RSA 461-A a requirement that all parties receive a copy of any report or recommendation made by the GAL, unless the court finds that such disclosure is not in the child’s interest. It also amends the definition of “incapacity” in RSA 464-A by requiring that an incident must have occurred within 20 days of the mailing or court receipt (in-hand) of the petition.
Chapter 235 makes financial affidavits prima facie evidence of income, unless challenged by the court. Submission of a knowingly false affidavit shall be referred for prosecution. This bill also allows the NH Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to share information with foster parents who are prospective adoptive parents in termination cases.
Chapter 127 clarifies when a state officer may enter a home to investigate a child’s immediate safety or well-being. If access is refused, the NH Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) can seek a court order. Once a court order for out-of-home placement has been issued, a child shall not be returned home until a court finds no threat of immediate harm. It also establishes a commission to review child abuse fatalities.
Chapter 260 requires the court to instruct minors and parents of the consequences of waiving right to counsel and requires DHHS to develop discharge plans for minors at youth services centers. It also requires DHHS to provide information on health insurance coverage to minors in the juvenile justice system and provides for annulment of criminal convictions bases on conduct that occurred between May 2014 and July 2015 while a person was age 17.
Chapter 17 provides that the Probate Division have jurisdiction over surrogacy cases under RSA 166-B. Chapter 154 reinstates the DCYF Advisory Board.
To read the text of the new statutes, see www.gencourt.state.nh.us and scroll down to the chapter number.
Looking ahead to the 2016 session, the following two bills were among those retained by the House for further consideration. See www.gencourt.state.nh.us to read the current text. Amendments are anticipated before they reach the floor of the House.
HB 249 would limit the duration of contested alimony orders, based on the duration of the marriage, to five years if less than 20 years, to seven years if 20-30 years, and to 10 years if 30 years or more. It would also restrict alimony renewal to one year after an alimony order ends. The bill would codify factors for alimony termination: death of either party, remarriage of obligee, or obligee cohabits with a dating or romantic partner on a continuing basis. Note: The Children and Family Law Committee is considering an amendment that would make more significant changes in the alimony law.
HB 378 would adopt new support formulas for cases in which each parent has at least 25 percent time, using “shared-costs.” It is similar to the Vermont Guidelines.
Honey Hastings is a solo practitioner in Wilton, NH. She is co-founder of the NHBA Family Law Section and co-founder of the Collaborative Law Alliance of New Hampshire. She can be reached by email.