|2007 April - Under construction
Background of Father's Rights Movements Nationally
Background of Father's Rights in New Hampshire
Federal Statutes having to do with children and marriage
NH RSAs (laws) having to do with children and child custody
NH Family Division Web Site
New Hampshire Child Custody Stories
NH Legislative Links
Find your Legislator(s)
Contact your legislator (read why you should do this as well)
Other Useful Links
NH Commission on the Status of Men
NH Case Law on Child Custody
NH Case Law on Child Support
NH Case Law on Guardians ad Litem
NH Case Law on the Office of Child Support Enforcementf
An analysis of NH Case Law with respect to fairness toward fathers.
Being interested in parental rights in New Hampshire in the context of abuse and neglect proceedings, I've gradually become more and more interested in the rights of fathers in particular. I have a very long page on the rights of non custodial parents in abuse and neglect proceedings. I long ago decided that I hate child custody law. My clients were for the most part incredibly needy emotionally and it was exhausting work at a time when Ric and I were trying to have a normal family life after four rather stressful years of law school. So I concentrated on DCYF litigation, and politely referred folks who called me about child custody issues to other attorneys. While DCYF litigation is hardly less stressful, at least I could ignore the rest of it.
A couple of things changed my interest, if not the general character of my law practice. One was meeting Molly Olson of the Center for Parental Responsibility near Minneapolis in 2003 during my bike ride across America. Ric found her through an email when I was looking for a place to park my body for a week while I went to Hennipen County Family Court for a week to study the effects of open court on child abuse and neglect law.
Molly became interested in the rights of fathers as a result of the experience of a close friend. She incredibly talented, and almost single handedly brought the Center for Parental Responsibility from a small organization run out of her home office to an organization that has respect in the Minnesota Legislature. She has more help these days and the organization continues to thrive and make inroads into child custody laws in that state. She has a 1/2 hour show on Minnesota public access TV once a week, so the movement is getting some traction there.
I recall that when I visited Molly Olson in the summer of 2003, I hadn't heard of un-wonderful practice of arresting fathers for back due child support. I was filled in immediately. She has steadfastly been attempting to get the state of Minnesota to reject the use of the Office of Child Support Enforcement to get involved in cases where federal money is not at stake because it is a violation of the Social Security Act absent the assent of the obligor parent to use the federally funded method to collect child support payments. Some states are moving in that direction.
The other thing that increased my interest in father's rights was being talked into taking the case of father who couldn't even get the court to look at the evidence in his case that the mother was actually harming the child. He came up to my house, showed me the NH Health and Human Services Ombudsman's Report on his daughter, and I wound up taking the case. That was in June of '06, and I had little idea that I'd get so involved the father's rights movement as a result of one case. David's case details are elsewhere on the web site.
In the context of representing David, I've met some of the father's rights activists in the state, emailed the Child and Family Law Committee, the NH House Judiciary Committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Executive Counsel. It's fairly clear to me that most of the legislators understand the problem, and are trying to take steps to solve it. It's far from being solved however.
BACKGROUND OF FATHER'S RIGHTS ISSUES NATIONALLY
Fortunately, most of that history has already been written for me. A good starting place is the article on the father's rights movement on Wikipedia. I'm not much into reinventing the wheel.
Wikipedia also has complete "web portals" on the issues of family law, child custody, and child support, an article on child support in the United States, and "deadbeat dads." And hey, if you don't like what you see, you can edit the articles yourself.
Federal legislation to "fix" the problem of "deadbeat dads," i.e. to help states collect child support, has resulted in many father's being jailed for failure to pay child support they can't afford to pay in the first instance. Unfortunately, the dads that have the money to collect from are generally the ones that are most interested in the actual welfare of their children. Most of the the real "deadbeat dads" I've run into in my practice are into drugs, too young to have any income to collect, or simply don't make enough to be able to pay anything toward child support. The rest are being impoverished by orders they can barely pay - in some cases seriously affecting their custodial time with their children because they're impoverished.
National legislation to protect women from domestic violence has contributed to the problem as well. While the legislation was certainly well intended, has resulted in just as massive abuse of domestic violence restraining orders by women attempting to get an advantage in child custody litigation. It doesn't take much at all to get a restraining order in any state. I've heard Judge Kelly, the administrative judge of the District and Family Courts in New Hampshire testify in the NH Legislature that the courts are well aware that these orders are being sought to obtain an advantage in custody litigation. A google search on "abuse of restraining orders" brings up more than a million hits.
A quick search on Google will produce a plethora of articles and links to national organizations on father's rights. As best I can determine, the movement is gaining some strength in recent years however. Some of the better articles on the issues of father's rights are below:
A December 2003 article in Reason Magazine.
An August 2006 Reason Magazine article on Feminism with some good comments on father's rights.
BACKGROUND ON NEW HAMPSHIRE FATHER'S RIGHTS MOVEMENT
In New Hampshire, the legislature put together a study committee to study the child support and custody issues. Their report was issued in 2004, and certainly it outlines the shameful treatment of men in the New Hampshire Court system.
The report outlines the many problem areas, and to the legislature's credit, they did a complete rewrite of the child custody law, providing for a presumption of shared custody. That should have solved the problem, the issue of the federally provided money to collect child support does not take into account the new paradigm of "shared custody."
The NH legislature also funded the Commission on the Status of Men for some years now. Their first report was if anything, more scathing than the report on child support and custody. And I'm not the only one saying so. Even worse, there are allegations that the members of the commission were picked to sabotage its purpose! I've heard noise that the legislature is trying to cut the commission's budget this year. (2007) If anyone knows whether or not they succeeded, please contact me so I can report it on this web site.
Comparing the first report from the Commission on the Status of Men to a report generated by the NH-Supreme-Court-picked NH Citizen's Commission on the State Courts shows a complete disconnect in how the courts view their priorities. The report on the Family Division issues were largely centered around implementing the state-wide Family Division and alternative dispute resolution. If you're on this page, chances are you're involved in a case where alternative dispute resolution (mediation basically) is not going to work. Despite the fact that the issues involving discrimination with respect to men and decisions contrary to the law were entirely ignored by the Commission, the report must have been embarrassing enough to the judicial branch. There is no link to it from the NH judicial web site or even a link I can find on the nh.gov web site.
As just one example of how poorly the courts listen to its citizens, I noted that the Commission recommended under Public Access (p. 6 of report) extending the right to counsel to certain legal proceedings where "essential rights" are at stake. The NH Supreme Court declined to do just that for non custodial fathers in abuse and neglect proceedings in March of 2007. Apparently they view the rights of non custodial fathers as less "fundamental" than those of "custodial" parents. I'm going to try to appeal this to the US Supreme Court, but money and time are both issues. I appealed a long list of issues in this case, including the father's lack of notice of the proceedings, lack of notice of ALL of the ORDERS through the "dispositional phase" of the case with respect to the mother, and the court took only one issue - the right to counsel. In its opinion, the court carefully deleted references to the denial of the cornerstone of due process - legal notice and opportunity to be heard. I intend to put the story of this father on a separate page at some point in the future. It's a perfect example of how the more egregious the due process violations, the less likely the NH Supreme Court is to do anything about it. They refuse to admit that their courts are as bad as they are.
The Child Support Guidelines were written for one parent who is a non custodial parent to pay a custodial parent. Obviously, if the custody is shared, expenses are allocated differently, and the payments in theory should be much lower unless there is a huge income disparity. HOWEVER, part of the NH Court's budget is based in part on the federal payments for child support collection. Their payments are based directly on how much time they spend on child support issues. It's actually better for the court's budget if they promote excessive litigation on issues of child support! This is fairly scary. It also does nothing to fix the basic problem.
Certainly more than one father in the state has theorized that the courts are simply maximizing their own budgets by collecting child support from the parent who is the greater wage earner, and not based on any child support guidelines, consideration of whether or not the parent can pay the child support. Unfortunately, based on my limited experience, I would have to agree with them. There is no reason on earth why parents with substantially the same amount of parenting time and substantially the same income would have a confiscatory child support order from the parent presumed to be the larger wage earner unless the courts had a financial stake in collecting more child support.
Father's are tired of fighting an unfair and misandrist court system in New Hampshire. But unless there is a critical mass of people willing to pressure the legislature into making actual changes in the child support guidelines themselves - and not to give the courts "discretion" to "deviate" from the guidelines for "special circumstance" that include shared custody, there will simply be more endless litigation. This can't be good for kids anywhere.
I've certainly had my own issues with court bias. I normally represent parents in abuse and neglect case before the courts where DCYF is always the opposing party. Imagine how my clients feel when they read that DCYF has given the administrative judge of the District Court an award. I expound at length on most of my web site about the issues of DCYF, but it's relevant here just to show how clueless the courts are about their own biases.
I did locate a Yahoo Group regarding a potential class action lawsuit by disaffected fathers in NH. It appears to have recently lost some steam and for the most part is taken over by spammers but perhaps at some point it will regain momentum.
WHY CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATOR IF THE COURT IS NOT TREATING YOU FAIRLY?
New Hampshire has a citizen legislature, and we elect our officials every two years. I believe in the last election, over 1/3 of the legislators elected were new. It takes time to educate the legislators about problems in the family law system and to get them to take action. I give them a lot of credit for trying to fix some of the problems, but in 2007, some of the bills introduced to fix the problems are more window dressing than not - giving judges more discretion rather than less has never been a good thing.
That said, they do try to get it right. I've been on both sides of the issue in child abuse and neglect cases. Some of the laws I constantly push for to fix the problems would create problems for some of my other clients. Not all dads are responsible, and some dads do abuse or neglect kids, but the ones that do create problems for mothers in the child protection system. And vice versa for when the mother is abusive or neglectful.
Contact Paula Werme - I probably will NOT take your case, but I can put you in touch with other men in NH fighting the same fight and get you on a mailing list of activists.
If you're a NH Lawyer that regularly represents fathers and want to be listed as a resource, you can also contact me.
Last updated 30 April, 2007
to the web page, first distributed on 29 April 2007, have been
gratifying. Thank you one and all for your comments.