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.