August 23rd, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
It’s the best of states, it’s the worst of states. Among family court reform advocates, New Hampshire is widely known as one of the very worst states in the nation if you’re a father trying to assert his parental rights in a custody case. The unfettered power with which Marital Masters, judges, Guardians ad Litem, etc., go about the business of separating fathers from their children is something to behold.
Many times I’ve listened agog to fathers describing officials whose actions seem completely arbitrary and limited by no apparent rules of evidence, procedure or due process. They sound to me more like feudal lords than judges. As an attorney who’s used to basic things like notice of hearings, production of evidence before a judicial decision and the like, I was at first hesitant to believe what I was hearing.
But now it seems that, in one way at least, New Hampshire is the best of states. That’s because it still hangs on to the concept of the rule of the people. In an age in which everyday people find themselves further and further from the corridors of power, New Hampshire has something called the House Committee on the Redress of Grievances. As the name indicates, it’s a committee of the state House of Representatives. It hears citizens complaints about public officials, decides whether they’re founded or unfounded and recommends action by the full house. Sometimes it recommends that the official in question be impeached. Ain’t democracy grand?
Here, here, here, here and here are the findings and recommendations on five complaints made to the Committee. All five concern the behavior of family court judges and other court personnel; all five complaints are deemed “founded” and all five contain recommendations for action by the House, some of which are truly far-reaching.
By all means read the five. Each is short, but together they paint a portrait of a family judiciary that clearly believes it can do anything it wants any way it wants to anyone it wants with no concern for consequences. Leave a group of four-year-olds alone in the sand box long enough and you’d see the same type of behavior. These people don’t care about the law, they don’t care about due process, they don’t care about evidence, and they certainly don’t care about children. If this weren’t New Hampshire, I’d call it the wild West.
The first example is about a Guardian ad Litem named Tracy Bernson.
[T]he Committee finds that the Petitioner was wrongly denied by the Family Division all visitation with his child contrary to N.H. law and his constitutional rights for approximately 13 months. This wrongful situation was due to: Guardian ad Litem Tracy Bernson who: 1. Made unlawful recommendations to the Court in her 2/11/11 guardian ad litem report including suspension of all visitation with his son with no findings of fact that it would be detrimental to the child and with no findings of abuse or neglect contrary to RSA 461-A:2; 2. Posited as fact the psychological condition of the minor child without being an expert herself, and with no expert psychological findings or report, and apart from any testimony that is the product of reliable principles and methods contrary to RSA 516:29-a; 3. Recommended the imposition of extrajudicial conditions on reunification contrary to RSA 461-A:2, RSA 461-A:6 and contrary to the presumption that fit parents are presumed to act in the best interests of their children; 4. Recommended unlawful prior restraint of Petitioner’s free speech by restricting him from talking with his son about the subject of love (see RSA 461-A:6 I(a); 5. Recommended as a condition to see his son, that Petitioner enroll in a parenting class and separately in individual therapy which is contrary to the Troxel presumption that “fit parents are presumed to act in the best interests of their children,” (Troxel v. Granville, 530 US 57)…
Here’s the Committee’s take on Marital Master Nancy Geiger:
The Committee finds that Marital Master Nancy Geiger also contributed to this when she: 1. Conducted a hearing that affected Petitioner’s parental rights without proper judicial notice per Duclos v. Duclos, 134 NH 42 – NH: Supreme Court 1991, quoting Morphy v. Morphy, 112 N.H. 507 – NH Supreme Court 1972; 2. Wrongfully recommended the suspension of Petitioner’s visitation and parental rights with no findings of abuse or neglect and no expert testimony; 3. Compelled Petitioner to finance the “therapeutic reunification” with his son in a forced contract contrary to Hale v. Henkel 201 U.S. 43; 4. Utilized what she knew to be false and/or incomplete GAL report testimony of GAL Tracy Bernson in arriving at her decision; 5. Refused to admit Petitioner’s properly authenticated telephone logs as exhibits at trial;
What were the Marital Masters in the Manchester Family Division up to? They “inexplicably and arbitrarily” bankrupted a fit father by ignoring the laws that would have allowed him to keep a little of his money instead of paying it to his ex as alimony. Having themselves violated many laws, they then jailed him for his inability to pay their wrongful orders.
The Redress of Grievances Committee listened to the testimony and saw the supporting documents of a Petitioner who in the process of a divorce case found himself suffering from numerous inexplicable, and arbitrary acts at the hands of the Family Division which have not only reduced him to virtually no income to support his home family but has wrongfully jailed him for inability to pay. Despite never being adjudicated an unfit parent he has been denied all contact with his children for nearly three years without any order of the court preventing such contact in violation of his fundamental parental rights and contrary to NH RSA 461-A:6, (Best Interests of the Child); NH RSA 633:1-A and 633:3-A and 633:4, (Interference with Custody); and, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Specifically, the Committee finds that Manchester Judicial Branch Family Division Marital Master Leonard Green: 1. Made an incorrect and confiscatory order (see RSA 458-C:2 IV c) that has reduced Petitioner to near financial ruin, violating NH Child Support Guidelines, and improperly awarding unnecessary alimony per NH RSA 458:19 and 546-A:5 (Uniform Civil Liability for Support); 2. Failed to comply with NH RSA 461-A:VI a (Parental Rights and Responsibilities). (See also NH Constitution Art.35. [The Judiciary; Tenure of Office]); and 3. Failed to consider the mandatory self-support reserve in RSA 458-C IV and the support for others mandated in RSA 546-A:5(g)…
The judges have a nasty little habit of ignoring laws, rules of procedure and evidence, and then, when a father tries to protest, simply refusing to give him a hearing. Without a hearing, there can be no transcript; without a transcript, there can be no appeal. So in one case, they appointed a Guardian ad Litem who by law is limited to a fee not to exceed $1,000 unless she gets approval from the court following a hearing. But the judge ignored all that. When the GAL submitted a fee application exceeding $12,000, it was approved, the father was ordered to pay it all, and his numerous requests for a hearing were simply ignored. And of course the judge refused the father all contact with his daughter for almost three years despite no finding of unfitness.
The Committee understands what fathers know all too well, but no one else in the state wants to admit:
[T]he resulting effect generally [has] been court order[ed] child abuse in the denial of her access to a loved parent for the period of two years. This has become a common report before this committee:that the Family division of the court, established to protect children , actually inflicts the injury on the child itself.
That’s right, “court ordered child abuse” by the family court. When the Committee got around to recommending action, it’s clear that the members saw the extent of the injustice that makes up so much of the daily workings of family courts in the state. Here are a few of its recommendations.
3. introduce legislation to enable each parent in a divorce to have the appointed GAL permanently dismissed without cause at least once. 4. Amend the statutes to allow citizens party to a case to enter into private prosecution of perjury and false swearing;
(1) Investigate Judge John Arnold for impeachment for offending the dignity and undermining the integrity of the courts and the confidence of the people, for failing to uphold the laws of the State of New Hampshire and for infringing on the natural and Constitutional rights of the petitioner; (2) Require that Rules of Evidence, Rules of Procedure, and all other Rules of the pertinent Court(s) be complied with by all judicial courts; (3) Require that all motions and petitions brought before a court of New Hampshire be docketed immediately and scheduled to be heard within six months after docketing;
4. To eliminate increases in or extensions of alimony pursuant to a final decree and when the receiving party has falsified evidence; 5. To make punishment mandatory in cases of false swearing and perjury by officers of the court in the Family Division,
4. Permit courts to deviate from equal parenting time distribution only in cases where there is clear and convincing evidence of abuse or neglect by one or both parents or it is requested by party receiving the lesser proportion of time;
Who would think it necessary for a committee of the legislature to instruct courts of the state to follow the rules of evidence and procedure? Who would guess that perjury and false swearing would be such a routine and accepted part of everyday court practice, or that orders would be issued with no evidence to support them? What person walking the streets of New Hampshire would know that some of the worst violators of law are its family court judges and masters?
Fathers, that’s who. Fathers know these things all too well, and now the members of the Committee for the Redress of Grievances know it too.
By the way, it’s noteworthy that the Committee called for the legislature to amend the state’s laws to require a presumption of shared parenting.
Thanks to David for the heads-up.