SUPERIOR COURT ADMINISTRATIVE ORDER NUMBER 23

Under authority conferred by the New Hampshire Supreme Court, the following Administrative Order is issued.

In all domestic cases in which disputed issues are submitted for neutral evaluation by agreement of the parties or by Order of the Court, the attached Protocol shall apply.


Attachment

PROTOCOL
NEUTRAL EVALUATION IN DOMESTIC RELATIONS CASES
IN THE SUPERIOR COURT


A. NEUTRAL EVALUATION

The goal of Neutral Evaluation is to help the parties resolve the disputed issues of their case. As part of the process the Neutral Evaluator will listen to each party's view of the case and attempt to facilitate a dialogue between them to settle the dispute. Should any issue remain unresolved, the evaluator shall explain to the parties the likely outcome should the case go to trial. The process is confidential and any evaluation may be accepted or rejected by the parties.

B. CASES ELIGIBLE FOR NEUTRAL EVALUATION

  1. Subject to (2) below, all pending domestic cases are eligible for referral to Neutral Evaluation by agreement of both parties or by order of the Court.
  2. Cases involving domestic violence will not ordinarily be referred to Neutral Evaluation unless the victim is represented by counsel.

C. EVALUATORS

  1. All Neutral Evaluators shall be attorneys approved by the Chief Justice of the Superior Court. All approved Neutral Evaluators must have a minimum of 5 years of active practice with substantial experience with domestic cases. In addition, the applicants' trial and alternative dispute resolution experience shall be considered.
  2. All Neutral Evaluators must successfully complete the Court approved training program.
  3. Upon receipt of a notice of appointment in a case, the Neutral Evaluator shall disclose any circumstances likely to create a conflict of interest, the appearance of a conflict of interest, a reasonable inference of bias, or other matters that may prevent the process from proceeding as scheduled. If the Neutral Evaluator withdraws, has a conflict of interest, or is otherwise unavailable, another shall be appointed by the Court.

D. ROLE OF THE NEUTRAL

Neutral Evaluators serve at the request of the Court and are quasi-judicial officers. Neutral Evaluators shall have immunity from suit to the extent provided by law. Neutral Evaluators do not act as legal advisors or legal representatives to any party.

E. INADMISSIBILITY OF NEUTRAL EVALUATION PROCEEDINGS

  1. Neutral Evaluation proceedings under this rule are non- binding and shall not impair the right of the litigants to demand a trial. Neutral Evaluation proceedings and information relating to these proceedings shall be confidential except as provided at RSA 169-C:29. Information, evidence, or the admission of any party or the evaluation placed on the case by the Neutral Evaluator, shall not be disclosed or used in any subsequent proceeding. Statements made and documents prepared by a party, attorney, or other participant in aid of such proceedings shall be privileged and shall not be disclosed to any Court or construed for any purpose as an admission against interest. All Neutral Evaluation proceedings are deemed Settlement Conferences as prescribed in the Superior Court Rules and in the Rules of Evidence. In addition, the parties shall not introduce into evidence in any subsequent proceedings the fact that there has been a Neutral Evaluation proceeding or any other matter concerning the conduct of the Neutral Evaluation proceeding.
  2. There shall be no record made of any proceedings under this rule.
  3. Evidence that would otherwise be admissible at trial shall not be rendered inadmissible as a result of its use in a Neutral Evaluation proceeding under this rule.

F. NEUTRAL EVALUATION PROCESS

  1. If Neutral Evaluation is agreed to by the parties or ordered by the Court, the Court shall assign a Neutral Evaluator to the case. The order for Neutral Evaluation shall provide the parties with the Neutral Evaluator's name and address, the time, date and place of the evaluation conference and the date by which the parties shall furnish the Neutral Evaluator with the required information and documents. All Neutral Evaluations shall be conducted at a courthouse.
  2. By the date specified, the parties shall exchange and submit to the Neutral Evaluator a summary of the significant aspects of their case not to exceed four pages. The summary shall include a statement of those matters agreed to by the parties and those matters which remain contested. The parties shall attach to the summary copies of all documents, financial affidavits, proposed decrees and other documents the parties deem relevant for a Neutral Evaluation. Upon receipt of a party's submission, the opposing party may send additional information responding to that submission. All such responsive submissions shall be exchanged with opposing counsel/party and shall contain a statement of compliance with the exchange requirement. Except as provided above, parties shall not communicate with the Neutral Evaluator concerning their case.

    If a Neutral Evaluator deems it necessary, he or she may request additional written information from any party. The Neutral Evaluator shall have access to any Guardian Ad Litem evaluation.
  3. All parties shall file a current financial affidavit with the court prior to the Neutral Evaluation.
  4. All parties and counsel shall be present at the neutral evaluation, a corespondent may be present. In addition, any other person who can make a significant contribution to the Neutral Evaluation may attend. As part of the process the Neutral Evaluator may caucus privately with any party, with or without counsel. In addition, any non party may be removed by the Neutral Evaluator if disruptive to the process or for any other reason that the Neutral Evaluator deems appropriate. The Neutral Evaluator may terminate the process at any time at the evaluator's sole discretion.
  5. The Neutral Evaluator shall make no report of the substance of the evaluation but shall report to the Court the failure of any party to comply with this rule. The evaluator may respond to informational requests by the Court to evaluate the program.