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Family Division Administrative Judge Ed Kelly appeared before the NH House Children & Family Law Committee today along with the Rockingham and Grafton Supervisory Judges and Family Division Administrators making a panel of five.

There were genuine expressions of a desire to maintain an open dialogue between the Family Division and the Legislature.  The Representatives in attendance, without exception, reflected the fact that the system is tragically broken and referred to the testimony, emails, and stories that they have heard over the past several months.  Here are few examples:

Rep. Bickford: The Coalition has a foothold in the courts.  Why is it that judges attend Coaltion-sponsored training and conference presentations but there is no judicial education on the importance of fathers in a child’s life.  The Coalition is against fathers.  GALs have an impact on the ‘uncontested cases’ too.  Men often surrender after an unfavorable GAL report.  How are GAL complaints handled?...Ex parte orders are too easy.  Judges are erring on the side of caution, but it’s something that ruins people’s lives.

Rep. Bettencourt: What’s your position on HB529?...Why bother with mandatory mediation, if one party knows they’ll win if they hold out for the court ruling?...I’m a believer in hard numbers, statistics.  How can it be explained that mothers are awarded custody 5 times more often than fathers?

Rep. Matarazzo: How are judges and marital masters trained?...  Are they trained in child development?...  Children need two parents.

Rep. Cady: Is there a way for the court to get feedback or track outcomes of rulings?  We should not have to wait until there’s mass public outcry to realize that something is going wrong…  I have a perception that the court docket on a given day rules the way that judges act.  I’ve seen impatience on the part of judges that impacts rulings…I have received so many emails and phone calls on HB529/HB640/HB450, the support issue is one that bothers me.  I’ve heard from fathers who’s children don’t want to visit because the dad doesn’t have any money left for activities with his children.

Rep. Gile: How is the “best interests of the child” standard defined?  Our committee had a UNH graduate student research this in NH and other states, and we’ve had a difficult time finding any objective criteria.

Rep. Blanchard: Are cases ever followed up?  Do judges learn from their mistakes?  As a system, do we ever review?  How do we correct the fact that, system-wide, fathers are pushed out of children’s lives?

Rep. Souza: Attorneys are exacerbating the situation.  Should the lawyers be required to attend the four-hour Child Impact Seminar?  How do we improve on follow through and implementation of court-ordered visitation orders?  There is no redress when these orders are ignored.

Rep. Walz: There is a perceived bias that judges favor mothers.  Different judges act differently.  I see an old guard of judges that give less shared parenting.  Shared parenting is in the best interest of the child.  How can we help to move the judiciary in this direction?

Rep Ginsburg: We’ve heard such heart-wrenching testimony.  Isn’t there any way for these cases to be redressed? 

So, folks, it seems that all of your efforts to educate the members of the NH House Committee on Children and Family Law have been working!  We need to keep it up.  This is a long process and we must be resolute, vigilant, and tireless.  We also need to continue to build numbers and build support.  Talk to your friends, relatives, and anyone else who might be sympathetic to this noble and just cause.

I’m sure that you’re interested in Judge Kelly’s answers to the questions posed.  It was a two-hour hearing.  I’ll try to summarize.  Also, the hearing was recorded via video and audio.  We’ll try to get streaming video and/or audio up soon.

In the meantime, here’s a summary of Judge Kelly’s position:  The Family Division recognizes that there’s a better way to do business.  We are open to change.  We have followed the hearings.  We’ve watched the NH Outlook Family Law special.  We’re not defensive.  The Family Division is open to and welcomes a dialogue with the legislature.  We don’t typically hear about ‘systemic problems’ because we’re usually focused on individual cases.  We need to be about change.  We need to listen.

Very positive, very encouraging stuff.  However, the true test is yet to come.  The true test is whether these words will be followed by action, by change.  Change is never easy.  And it takes time.  Unfortunately, our children are growing up.  Time is a luxury that we don’t have.  We need to continue our course, keep building, and keep the pressure on.  We’ll work with anyone and everyone who’s willing to move towards a better way, a better system for NH’s children of divorce or unmarried parents.

Special thanks to all those who showed up in support at the hearing: Bruce Blandin, Mike Geanoulis, Eileen Cipnick, John Dawley (and his mobile NHCUSTODY.ORG and NCFCNH.ORG signs), Eric Ostman, Mark Stigliano, Charlie Gronski, Dom Tringale, Chris Matses, and Michael Cavanaugh (wearing a “STOP the war on fathers” t-shirt).

So, take some encouragement from this hearing.  And know, too, that your efforts so far have made a difference.  Then, let’s get back to work.  This job needs finishing…and there’s still so much to do!   

Justice Is Coming,
Robert Chase