Monday, March 30, 2020

COVID 19 Child Support and Alimony Modifications

Pursuant to the State of New Hampshire’s orders due to concerns about the COVID-19 outbreak, many businesses are shut down and employees are out of work.  While the federal and state governments are working on stimulus packages and the expansion of unemployment benefits, parties that are subject to Court orders for child support and/or alimony may want to take some additional steps.

NH RSA 458-C:7 permits parties to seek a modification of a child support order any time there has been a substantial change in circumstances.  The modification can become effective on the date a party has provided “notice” of the request to modify to the other party. “Notice” means service on the other party or acceptance of service by the other party.

NH RSA 458:19-aa permits parties to seek a modification of an alimony order when there has been a substantial and unforeseeable change of circumstances since the alimony order was entered.

The Court has created a straightforward process to seek a modification of child support or alimony.  To seek a modification, a party needs to prepare and file a Personal Data Sheet and a Petition to Change Court Order with the Court. These forms can be found on the Court’s website.  As the Court will need to re-open the original divorce or parenting case to address the modification request, the filing party will be required to pay a $252.00 filing fee.  If circumstances warrant, a Motion to Waive Filing Fee can also be filed asking the Court to allow a party to file for a modification without paying the filing fee. A completed and signed Financial Affidavit must be filed at the same time. These forms can also be found on the Court’s website.

After the documents are filed with the  Court and a case is opened, the Court will issue instructions to have the other party served.  Once the other party has been served, a child support hearing will be scheduled.

Although it is true that  no hearings will be scheduled until at least May, 4 2020 due to COVID-19, it is still important to get the Petition to Change Court Order filed now. If a Petition is not filed, the support obligation will continue to be owed and a substantial arrearage can be accrued.  Between the time of filing the Petition to Change Court Order and receipt of the Court’s Orders, parties need to do the best they can to fully comply with the child support or alimony orders.  A Court will not be happy to see a party eating out, making large purchases, etc. while not paying his/her support obligations.

Private agreements between parties suspending the obligation to pay child support are not enforceable unless approved by the Court.  If you and your child’s other parent reach an agreement to suspend or modify the child support obligation, you must file a new Uniform Support Order with the  Court.  Otherwise, the full amount of your obligation will be owed.

If you need help seeking a modification of your court ordered support obligations, the family law attorneys at Parnell, Michels & McKay have the experience necessary to assist you. Contact us today.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Is Divorce Seasonal?

‘Tis the Season for Divorce?

Research from the University of Washington has suggested that divorce filings in some states consistently peak in the months of August and March.  The study noted that divorce filings may be driven by a “domestic ritual” calendar and suggested that the increased filings may be the result of unhappy spouses realizing that the holidays or vacations did not live up to their expectations. Unhappy couples often think that the holidays or vacations are good times for them to mend their relationships. They seem to develop an optimistic approach thinking that things will be better in the relationship if they have a nice holiday or vacation together, as a family.  

In New Hampshire, the attorneys at Parnell, Michels & McKay have experienced a similar increase in divorce consultations and filings in the first quarter of the year (after the holidays) and in the summer (after the kids get out of school).  We have traditionally felt that the biggest reason for the increase in consultations and filings was more practical. We believed that the increase during the first quarter of the year had more to do with not wanting to face divorce or force the kids to face divorce during a time of year that is supposed to be happy (i.e. the holidays). It seemed to us that the increase in divorce action in the summer was based on the possibility of the family needing to sell the family home and therefore, changing the kids’ schools. We had not considered the possibility that couples may have delayed pursuing divorce feeling that holidays or vacations would bring change to a troubled relationship. This realization reminds us that family dynamics and reasons to divorce are different for all people.

Whatever the time of year and whatever the reason, clients regularly tell us that going through a divorce was the most difficult time in their lives. The emotional and financial toll is devastating to an individual, and the family as a whole.  Our experience with divorce shows us that divorce is at least 90% emotional and only about 10% legal.  This means that helping our clients to manage their emotional responses during the divorce process can provide tremendous benefit to the client and allow the divorce process to be less adversarial and less expensive.  Divorcing clients regularly experience a variety of emotions including anger, sadness, fear, distrust, and many others.  It is often the emotional reactions and responses that prevent divorces from settling, not the complexity of the legal issues.

Collaborative Practice can help clients manage their emotions and get through the divorce in a healthier and less adversarial way.  Collaborative Practice is a method of dispute resolution that aims to keep divorcing couples and their children out of court.  Unlike traditional divorce, Collaborative Practice gives couples more control over the outcome of their separation. Rather than having a judge decide the family's future through litigation, Collaborative Practice allows couples to make flexible agreements that address the financial, psychological and legal aspects of divorce. In addition to often being less expensive than a traditional divorce, Collaborative Divorce takes the entire family into account. “Moms and dads can’t divorce, husbands and wives do and that is one big difference”,  Anne Lucas, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and member of King Collaborative Law in Seattle said.

The Collaborative Practice team is made up of a collaboratively trained lawyer for each party and a combination of collaboratively trained neutral financial, mental health and/or child specialists. These jointly retained specialists help couples navigate the emotional aspects of divorce and negotiate solutions that are mutually beneficial to the whole family.   

For more information about Collaborative Divorce check out this short video.

Attorney Catherine McKay has been practicing Collaborative Divorce since 2000.  If you have questions or wish to learn more about the process and how it can benefit your family anticipating divorce, contact Attorney McKay.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Personal Injury - Health Insurer's subrogation lights - Know the law

                In almost all injury cases, when the plaintiff gets injured they seek healthcare almost immediately. Most times the person’s health insurance company pays the bills generated by an accident in the first instance. Sometimes, this is a private company like Blue Cross Blue Shield, and other times it is government provided insurance like Medicare or Medicaid. In each scenario, both types of insurance will have a “lien” or right of reimbursement from the settlement an injured party can get from a third party insurance policy.

                Most commonly, it is a private health insurer like BCBS that pays the bills. As part of all health insurance contracts, the health insurer reserves a “subrogation” right through the contract. This allows the health insurer to get paid back through a settlement or judgment any medical bills that they paid that are being accounted for in the settlement. The theory is that a person should not be able to be paid twice for the medical service, which would lead to a sort of “double recovery”. This is built into the health insurance contract and is only triggered by the collection of actual settlement or judgment dollars. If you review your own health insurance contract, you will find this provision likely under the title “subrogation”.

                In other situations, the health insurer is a governmental agency like Medicare, Medicaid or Tricare (military insurance). These insurers have a statutory right of reimbursement. This means that, like the private insurers above, they have a right to be reimbursed from any settlement or judgment the insured receives for bills they have paid. Since these are statutory rights of reimbursement, it becomes imperative to understand these liens and coordinate the benefits in order to avoid having the plaintiff be sued in the future. This is because these liens are “automatic” and many people do not understand that such liens exist. It is very important to identify all types of liens in each case, and coordinate paying them back prior to reaching a settlement.

                This can also dovetail with a person’s auto insurance coverage in New Hampshire called Medical Payments coverage. Based on a recent decision by the New Hampshire Supreme Court, this medical payment coverage can be used to help off-set the cost of the medical treatment. In the first instance, this can be used to pay co-pays and deductibles. If money remains on the coverage, it can be used to reduce the health insurance lien. However, distinct from health insurance, medical payment coverage has no subrogation rights, and thus should be maximized in all cases. If you have insurance coverage issues related to an auto accident or other injury, the experienced lawyers at Parnell, Michels & McKay can help.

                Negotiating these liens can often yield to lower reimbursement amounts, which can only benefit our clients. Having an experienced personal injury litigation attorney becomes very important for any potential plaintiff. If you were injured and need help getting back to normal, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Parnell, Michels and McKay  and put our 50 years of combined experience to use.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Dog Bites Injuries

                Dogs are man’s best friend. Most of us have had them as a part of our families over the years. However, dogs (especially poorly trained dogs) can be highly dangerous animals. When they attack, they can cause lasting and permanent physical and emotional scarring. Some breeds (like pit bulls, German Shepherds or Dobermans) can cause even more significant damage because of their physiological makeup. These breeds are often black listed by insurance companies because of this. Often, insurance companies will charge higher premiums to dog owners who own dogs like a pit bull or Doberman. This is not necessarily because they are more aggressive than other dogs, but because the damage they cause is so much more significant.

                In New Hampshire, dog bite cases are strict liability. This means that the owner of a dog is strictly liable for injuries caused by their dog’s attack. So, an insurance company normally cannot claim that the victim of the dog attack contributed to our caused the attack. While there are exceptions to this rule (like deliberately antagonizing a dog), it is a very difficult defense to establish. Our firm also handles looking at whether other entities could be held responsible besides the owner, as it is not always just the owner’s fault for the dog attacking someone.

                While dog bite cases are not that complicated when it comes to liability, they are much more complicated when it comes to damages a person can suffer. Often, the injuries are open wounds but do not involve broken bones. They typically involve permanent scarring, which can have lasting effects both physically and mentally. It is also common to suffer significant emotional trauma from a dog attack. This can include the victim being unable to be around dogs for fear of their safety, or post-traumatic stress from the incident.

                At Parnell, Michels & McKay, we have experienced personal injury attorneys that can address all the ramifications of a dog attack. Contact us today if you were a victim of a dog or animal attack, and see how our team can help you.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Divorce - A Personal Perspective

-          By Christian Bonnano
With almost 50% of all marriages in the United States ending in divorce or separation, most people you encounter will have one ‘crazy’ family story or another. Sadly, when I was 13 years of age, my parents decided it was time to end their marriage and get a divorce. At the age of 13, I did not fully understand why they were leaving each other and the circumstances around it. Nothing too bad was going on, in reality, they just weren’t in love with each other anymore and wanted to separate. Of course, they had their moments, but from what I have seen throughout my life, most divorces are very difficult.
At such a young age, my parents did not expose me to the legalities surrounding their divorce. I would constantly hear them arguing about property, money, and even me. At the time, I could care less about all of that, I really just wanted my parents to get back together, but as the years have passed I look back and wish they explained the concept of divorce a little better. All that arguing I heard them do had a deeper meaning and it took a few years before I fully understood why and what it was all about.
Through all the arguing and frustrations between my parents, they decided to work together to make sure I was happy. Growing up with divorced parents, I was allowed to live where I want and visit the other parent at free-will. Although they worked together to make sure my life was good, they could not work together when it came to money. Money is something my parents have always argued about and even to this day, with their limited number of conversations, do not see eye to eye on. When I was young, I really just thought they were complaining for no reason because I did not fully understand how child support or alimony worked; now, I see why there were many arguments and frustrations from both sides.
Overall, I appreciate what my parents did to assure my happiness, although I still wish they would have explained things to me back then. I completely understand the fact that I was 13 and might not understand, or even care, about the legalities surrounding their divorce, but I believe it would have helped me understand why certain things were happening. Today, I have a great relationship with both of my parents and both of them are doing great. Yes, they still argue, but most divorced couples do. At the end of the day, I know they are both there for me and love me and that’s all I could ever ask for.
Moving on from my life story, I think it is important to note an interesting fact about divorce in New Hampshire.
1.       New Hampshire is a no-fault and a fault state.  – No fault divorces mean that there does not have to be a reason for divorce. If a couple decides they have had enough of each other, like my parents, then they can separate. At fault divorces mean there is a specific reason of separation, such as cruelty, incarceration, alcoholism, etc. This makes it easier to get a divorce, and makes the process simpler and with less animosity. This is one of the reasons collaborative law ( is an important development as well. 
As my internship at Parnell, Michels & McKay moves forward, it is interesting to learn the application of these rules, especially with the great lawyers I am able to work with. The law is ever changing, and understanding the law is important for anyone interested in a legal career like myself.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Social Media and Litigation: Why you need to be wary of posting online?

                It is common for most of our society to be on social media. At this point, even most of our grandparents have a Facebook page. While this is a great way to connect to people online, it also presents potential problems for those of us engaged in potential or ongoing litigation. As many people like to say, beware what you post on social media! This is good general advice, but also good legal advice. Social media requests have become common place in litigation discovery requests, and courts are not as reluctant to order that information released.

                The most common requests are for Facebook posts. While most Courts will not allow complete access to a Facebook page of a party, they will look into specific posts related to the issue at trial. So, for example, assume a person is involved in a car accident. They were injured, but for the most part escaped serious injury. After the accident, the person posts that they are lucky to survive, but are going to sue the other driver and get a big judgment and they want money. Lots of money. Further, as the case goes on, this same person posts multiple times images of them running marathons, doing strong man competitions and playing sports. In this situation, almost all of those posts can be made public. This is because they go to the actual issues in the case, and the damages claim for the injured party. The post about wanting money can be argued as they are looking to just get paid, and not that they are actually really injured. The posts about their physical activity can be used to show they aren’t hurt. In these situations, those posts can be used against a person.

                These posts can also help. Let’s say the same person is really badly injured, and their social media posts cover their recovery from their injuries. There are posts and pictures of them in rehab and physical therapy, post-surgical pictures, and even posts from their friends on their page lamenting how difficult everything has been for them. These can be used to support the claimed damages.

                Regardless, all of us have to be conscious that our social media posts are for the most part public, and can be used against us. Some of us are aware of this anyways in how we see Twitter and Facebook posts go “viral”. It’s important to be careful about what we post online, especially if you are in litigation. We often advise clients to reduce their posting, and while that is more difficult for the younger generation, it often helps in the underlying case.

                At Parnell, Michels & McKay, we stay apprised of all developments in the law, including how social media affects our clients and their cases. If you are involved in potential litigation and need legal help, contact us to find out how to protect yourself. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


            Congress has designated the third week in October as National Estate Planning Awareness Week (October 20-26, 2018).
            It is estimated that at least 60% of Americans do not have an estate plan.  Most people think that only older adults need to have an estate plan.  However, it’s important for younger people to have a Will, especially if they have minor children.  A proper estate plan will provide for a guardian for your minor children to ensure that they’ll be cared for by the people you want as guardians in the event of your death or incapacity. Yet, based on a recent AARP survey, 78% of people age 18-36 and 64% of people age 37-52 do not have a will. 
Without an estate plan such as a Will or Trust, when you pass away, your affairs will be settled pursuant to the intestate laws of the state where you reside.  The intestacy laws may not provide that your assets go to the people you want to receive your property.  In fact, depending on the size of your estate and how your assets are held, your spouse may not receive the entire estate.  It is especially important to have an estate plan if you have a blended family, especially if you want to provide for your children from a prior marriage.
If you don't have an up-to-date estate plan, including durable powers of attorney, and you are unable to manage your financial affairs due to incapacity, the courts will appoint someone to manage them for you.   If you have not designated the individual that you would like to be your agent, the court may appoint someone that you would not want to perform those responsibilities.
A good estate plan starts with a planning meeting with your attorney and proper drafting and signing of appropriate legal documents such as wills, trusts, financial durable powers of attorney and a health-care power of attorney. Having a properly designed estate plan will help your family get through a very difficult and emotional time.
If you would like to discuss your estate plan, please contact an attorney in our office. The attorneys at Parnell, Michels & McKay have the experience necessary to design an estate plan to achieve each client’s goals and needs.