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August 19. 2012 9:04PM

Feuding couple shouldn't expect quick decision in understaffed courts


Jeanmarie Papelian 
This question was answered by Jeanmarie Papelian of the McLane Law Firm

Q: My husband and I just separated. We don't agree on who is responsible for the bills, what is the right schedule for time with the kids, or anything else. How quickly can I get the court to issue an order?

A: Unfortunately, you cannot expect a speedy resolution of any divorce or family matter in New Hampshire's Family Division. This state's Circuit Court system has been gutted by legislative cost-cutting, to the point that Chief Judge Ed Kelly has warned that “we may very well be at the point at which we are not able to give all families emergency or stabilizing court orders.” There are simply not enough judges to hear those cases.

Accordingly, you must find a way to resolve the issues outside the courtroom. You and your husband aren't likely to agree on much these days, but there are tools available to help you. Both mediation and collaborative divorce are methods available to resolve New Hampshire divorces and parenting disputes. Even in the absence of a court crisis, you would be directed to mediate your parenting issues, because court rules require parties to attempt to work out their own parenting plan by agreement before they can ask the court to issue one. Most parents know what is best for their own children. In the case of a breakup, they may not be able to calmly discuss such issues. A mediator can facilitate a discussion. There are many skilled marital mediators in the New Hampshire Bar Association.

Some people choose to attend mediation without lawyers present, in order to save money. That is a matter of personal preference. Regardless, it is always wise to consult a lawyer prior to signing any agreement in order to fully understand your rights and responsibilities.

Collaborative divorce practice is another method of resolving disputes outside the courtroom. This method may be appropriate where multiple issues are disputed. Collaborative divorce is an approach in which couples agree to openly negotiate with the help of specially trained professionals (attorneys, financial neutral, and/or child specialist) in order to arrive at settlement terms that they feel are best for themselves and their children. You can find collaborative practitioners in your area by visiting the website of the Collaborative Law Alliance of New Hampshire.

If your family is in crisis, you can't afford to wait for the court's funding crisis to be resolved. Turn to alternate dispute resolution.

Jeanmarie Papelian can be reached at Jeanmarie.papelian@mclane.com.

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Know the Law is a bi-weekly column sponsored by The McLane Law Firm.

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We invite your questions of business law. Questions and ideas for future columns should be addressed to: Know the Law, The McLane Law Firm, P.O. Box 326, Manchester, 03105-0326 or emailed to knowthelaw@mclane.com. Know the Law provides general legal information, not legal advice. We recommend that you consult a lawyer for guidance specific to your particular situation.

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