To The Daily Sun,
Divorce is an emotional and stressful process which can be eased by the Family Court system through the introduction of mediation, fairness and emphasis on settlements, whereby the parties can begin new lives. However, the New Hampshire Family Court system has Marital Masters who are reviewed every three years only by their peers and not by an independent review board. Marital Master positions were recently cut from the court and drop off as their contracts expire. The court then came up with marital referees to fill the void. Every Marital Master who was not renewed, and has not retired or become a judge, has been rehired as a Marital Referee. These referees are considered employees and are protected from sanction. This presents serious flaws in the system whereby Marital Masters (or referees) become powerful individuals who hold the future of emotionally damaged parties in their hands and make rulings without checks and balances and thereby destroy lives.
Take the case in Cheshire County where Thomas Ball, driven to distraction by Marital Masters and the Family Courts wrote a manifesto, and then set himself on fire on the court steps. He died to prove his point and try to prevent others from the wrath of the Family Court's injustices.
In another case in Belknap County, the Marital Master made rulings and then ruled against his own rulings which caused great confusion. For example he stated in the final decree that both parties made about equal income, yet while the divorce was pending ordered the husband to pay property taxes on all four properties. Then, when the appraiser grossly over-appraised personal items of which approximately 90 percent were items owned solely by the husband, the Marital Master said, "... if there's a debate about whether the values are fair values for all the personal property that there is to be divided, then I can't use the values in connection with the overall property distribution" yet turned around and used the values in the Final Decree.
Adding to the confusion, the Marital Master ordered the man's tools that he makes a living with sold at auction in order to determine their true value for the property distribution worksheet. The collection of tools and personal property were overvalued for an estimated $52,000 yet brought only $1,700 at auction.
The appraisal "values" were approximately six times the actual value of the items.
The man's metal lathe, for instance, was appraised for $1,200, and yet brought only $200 at the auction. The Marital Master refused to adjust the figures to accurately reflect their value after the auction results. This in turn left the man without means to make a living, ruined his 35 year successful and reputable business, and saddled him with a large amount to pay his ex-wife instead of a lower accurate amount. The court denied efforts to correct the amount although it had the power to correct the mutual mistake of the disparity in values. The man is now being forced to sell his home which includes his motorcycle repair shop/state inspection station because the amount was so large.
Belknap County had another case that turned deadly when the man shot himself over the Marital Master's rulings in his divorce.
One of the faults of the system is that grievances have no place to be filed.
State Representative, Michael Sylvia, of Belmont, stated "Our constitution (P. 1, A. 31 ) requires the Legislature to assemble for the redress of public grievances. Since 2013 the committee to hear petitions for redress has been dissolved. I find it troubling that this most important responsibility has been diminished to filing petitions away in folders without addressing and resolving public grievances. We must follow our duty spelled out in Article 31 lest the people refer back to Article 31 lest the people refer back to Article 10."
It is time for residents in this state, our elected officials and the governor to step up and support a bill that would revamp the system and insist on marital referees to be evaluated by an independent review board and to be held accountable and not escape sanctions. It may not be too late for the man in Belknap County to have his house saved through intervention of a public official. Perhaps someone will step up to the plate and put an end to the injustices happening every day.
New Hampshire's Family Courts should not be deadly. They should be part of a system that makes separation for couples and families a fair and just process that treats individuals with empathy and respect.
Those who have or are currently experiencing similar injustices by the New Hampshire Family Courts can call their local state representative.
Nancy Childress, Esq.
(Formerly of Gilmanton)
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