Friday, May 8, 2020

NEW STATUTE MAKES IT EASIER TO SUBMIT MEDICAL BILLS AT TRIAL SAVING VALUABLE TIME FOR MEDICAL FACILITIES


                In an effort to make trials easier, and the burden less on medical providers, Parnell, Michels & McKay’s own Rory Parnell provided substantial input and testimony relative to the new bill known as RSA 516:29-c, which allows medical bills to be submitted without the need to call the keeper of the records or doctors to testify the records are accurate.

                This effort was made primarily to make it easier on medical providers to submit bills and not subject their office manager, record keepers, or managing doctors to be forced to testify by insurance defense counsel to submit simple medical bills. While this is allowed for all cases where the medical bills are lower than $25,000, it is an important step for lessening the burden on local medical providers and their staff.

                This also benefits normal working folks who are injured due to no fault of their own in keeping trial costs down, and making it easier to try a case. This also reduces court time, and allows courts and juries to focus on important issues in cases.

                While the insurance industry was not supportive of the idea, there were various attorneys who practice insurance defense who recognized the efficiency of this new statute. Moreover, many medical providers were in support of the bill, which allowed them to focus on treatment of their patients.

                If you need assistance because you were injured in a car accident, motorcycle accident, trucking accident, workplace injury, or other injuries, contact the experienced attorneys at Parnell, Michels & McKay to get the fair resolution you deserve.

Monday, April 13, 2020

COVID-19 Parenting Orders and Modifications


COVID-19 continues to present many challenges to New Hampshire and its families. With the Governor’s directive limiting gathering significantly, closing schools, and asking many people to work from home, families have been inundated with concerns about their current parenting orders or obtaining new ones.

Please note that this article should not be read for any one person’s particular situation or be interpreted as legal advice. Everyone’s situation is different, and if you have legal concerns regarding interpretation or modification of a parenting plan, you should speak with one the family law attorneys at Parnell, Michels & McKay.

NH RSA 461-A:6 sets the “best interest of the child” legal standard for drafting or modifying a parenting plan. The best interest of the child is determined by up to twelve (12) factors which can be weighed differently by the judge depending on the case, as well as any other factor the Court deems relevant. The legal standard is purposely “open”. It is intended to provide the Family Court the flexibility to make a judgment on what is right for any child, in any situation, when the parents are unable to agree.

NH RSA 461-A:11 is for when the parties want to change the routine schedule after a parenting plan has been ordered. In this statute the Court enumerates nine (9) different factors that permits the Court to modify the routine schedule for the child. A parent must list and prove a factor under this section if they want to change the child’s schedule. However, any other modification request must only prove the best interest of the child standard.

The question facing many family law practitioners concerns with how to best guide parents in an unprecedent event. To be frank, there is no single clear and obvious answer.

The general consensus is that unless someone in the parent’s household has COVID-19, parenting should continue under the parenting plan except for good and compelling cause shown. Parent must have exceedingly severe circumstances to unilaterally deny parenting time to the other parent. Any unilateral decision faces the risk of a contempt motion at a later date for denying parenting time.
The current shelter in place orders permit grocery and pharmacy trips, and certain outdoor activities so long as proper group reduction and social distancing measures are taken. So, facts will need to be more persuasive than something like “I think I am sick” or “I think my child could get sick”.
Although it is true that no hearings will be scheduled until at least May 4, 2020 and/or the termination of the Governor’s State of Emergency due to COVID-19, the Family Court remains open for emergency (ex parte) hearings if there are concerns for your child’s safety and health. For any ex parte motion, the party will need to demonstrate that immediate and irreparable harm will come to the child if the Court does not take preventative action. This cannot be hypothetical. The Court is very wary of people trying to abuse this process during the pandemic, and is denying many ex parte filings.

In addition, the Family Court remains open to receive any and all motions and pleadings. Further, the Court is holding other hearings such as temporary hearings and child support referee hearings to ensure that parenting and child support cases can remain on track. 

Organizations and Courts across the country have tried to develop guidelines for co-parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic. What follows is from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC):

“Seven Guidelines for Parents Who Are Divorce/Separated and Sharing Custody of Children During the COVID19 Pandemic

From the leaders of groups that deal with families in crisis:

Susan Myres, President of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML)
Dr. Matt Sullivan, President of Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC)
Annette Burns, AAML and Former President of AFCC
Yasmine Mehmet, AAML
Kim Bonuomo, AAML
Nancy Kellman, AAML
Dr. Leslie Drozd, AFCC
Dr. Robin Deutsch, AFCC
Jill Peña, Executive Director of AAML
Peter Salem, Executive Director of AFCC

1. BE HEALTHY.

Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines and model good behavior for your children with intensive hand washing, wiping down surfaces and other objects that are frequently touched, and maintaining social distancing. This also means BE INFORMED. Stay in touch with the most reliable media sources and avoid the rumor mill on social media.

2. BE MINDFUL.

Be honest about the seriousness of the pandemic but maintain a calm attitude and convey to your children your belief that everything will return to normal in time. Avoid making careless comments in front of the children and exposing them to endless media coverage intended for adults. Don't leave the news on 24/7, for instance. But, at the same time, encourage your children to ask questions and express their concerns and answer them truthfully at a level that is age-appropriate.

3. BE COMPLIANT with court orders and custody agreements.

As much as possible, try to avoid reinventing the wheel despite the unusual circumstances. The custody agreement or court order exists to prevent endless haggling over the details of timesharing. In some jurisdictions there are even standing orders mandating that, if schools are closed, custody agreements should remain in force as though school were still in session.

4. BE CREATIVE.

At the same time, it would be foolish to expect that nothing will change when people are being advised not to fly and vacation attractions such as amusement parks, museums and entertainment venues are closing all over the US and the world. In addition, some parents will have to work extra hours to help deal with the crisis and other parents may be out of work or working reduced hours for a time. Plans will inevitably have to change. Encourage closeness with the parent who is not going to see the child through shared books, movies, games and FaceTime or Skype.

5. BE TRANSPARENT.

Provide honest information to your co-parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus, and try to agree on what steps each of you will take to protect the child from exposure. Certainly both parents should be informed at once if the child is exhibiting any possible symptoms of the virus.

6. BE GENEROUS.

Try to provide makeup time to the parent who missed out, if at all possible. Family law judges expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made and will take seriously concerns raised in later filings about parents who are inflexible in highly unusual circumstances.

7. BE UNDERSTANDING.

There is no doubt that the pandemic will pose an economic hardship and lead to lost earnings for many, many parents, both those who are paying child support and those who are receiving child support. The parent who is paying should try to provide something, even if it can't be the full amount. The parent who is receiving payments should try to be accommodating under these challenging and temporary circumstances.

Adversity can become an opportunity for parents to come together and focus on what is best for the child. For many children, the strange days of the pandemic will leave vivid memories. It's important for every child to know and remember that both parents did everything they could to explain what was happening and to keep their child safe.

Moreover, the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court issued the following open letter about one week ago: https://www.mass.gov/news/open-letter-regarding-co-parenting-during-covid-19-from-chief-justice-john-d-casey.

The most important thing that parents can do right now is be understanding and be kind. If you need help seeking a modification of your court ordered parenting obligations, or want advice on interpreting your current orders through the pandemic, the family law attorneys at Parnell, Michels & McKay have the experience necessary to assist you. Contact us today.

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.  https://www.courts.state.nh.us/fdpp/forms/index.htm.  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


DIVORCE
-          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 (https://www.pmmlawyers.com/collaborative-law.asp 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.