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Frequently Asked Questions about the New Hampshire Circuit Court: District/Family/Probate During COVID-19

Hearings
 
1.       Are Circuit Court hearings still being held?
Yes, the Circuit Court is holding some hearings. The Supreme Court has issued emergency orders regarding the Circuit Court, which detail the case types for which in-person hearings may be held during the state of emergency. Currently, the case types eligible for in-person hearings include:

  • Criminal matters involving incarcerated defendants;
  • Orders of protection for domestic violence, stalking  and juvenile abuse;
  • Child-related emergency orders in divorce/parenting and hearings on any emergency relief ordered;
  • Temporary hearings in divorce/parenting cases;
  • Hearings on the establishment or modification of child support (financial, medical, or both);
  • Abuse/neglect cases if children are in out-of-home placement;
  • Delinquency and CHINS cases if juvenile is detained or in an out-of-home placement;
  • Emergency injunctive relief;
  • Emergency mental health orders, including Involuntary Emergency Admission and Involuntary Admission (probate commitment) proceedings; and
  • Petitions for guardianship of minors or guardianship over incapacitated persons, and hearings on such orders.
  • Landlord/tenant proceedings under RSA 540 (evictions) and RSA 540-A (prohibited activities by landlords or tenants)

All hearings in the above matters may be in-person hearings, but more likely they have been or will be rescheduled as telephonic hearings to limit the contact of members of the public, courthouse security, court staff and judges.

2.       I have a court hearing scheduled. I have not heard whether or not I have to come to court or participate by phone for my hearing. What should I do?
If you have not received a cancellation notice or notice of a telephonic hearing and your hearing is before the end date of the current order, please contact the Information Center at 1-855-212-1234. If you have not received a court notice and your hearing is after the end date of the current emergency order, your hearing is still scheduled to proceed. If this emergency situation continues, a new Supreme Court Order describing the impact on court cases will be posted on the NHJB website, and impacted parties will be notified.

3. If my court hearing has been cancelled, when will it be rescheduled?
Hearings will be rescheduled in accordance with Supreme Court orders, court capacity, and public health requirements. Canceled hearings may be scheduled for telephone or video hearings. You will receive a notice in the U.S. mail when your hearing is rescheduled.

4.       Are court hearings being held by telephone?
Yes, most Circuit Court hearings are being held by telephone or video.  Your scheduling notice from the court should have included a date, time, and number or code to use to participate in your hearing.  If it did not, please call the court’s Information Center at 1-855-212-1234.  
 
5.       I received a notice from the court saying my hearing will happen over the phone. I don’t have access to a phone. What do I do?
You may attend the hearing in person if the security officer at the courthouse determines you pass the health screening. Or, you can send a letter to the address on your court notice explaining that you do not have access to a phone and that you are requesting a later date for your hearing. Depending on the type of case, the court may or may not be able to grant your request.
 
 
Access to Circuit Courthouses

6.       I need to file a document with the court.  How do I do that?
If the filing involves emergency relief or a landlord/tenant case pursuant to RSA 540 or RSA 540-A in which you must file required documents or make rental payments you may file in person at the courthouse, if you also pass the screening questions (see Question 7). You can also mail emergency filings to the appropriate court.

If you are filing a document for a hearing that is scheduled to occur within the next few days, you should email the filing to the appropriate court. Call the Information Center at 1-855-212-1234 for the appropriate email address.

All other filings, including for hearings scheduled more than a few days away, should be filed by mail.  If you do go to the courthouse to file a document that is not an emergency matter, you will be directed to put your document into the court’s drop box at or near the security desk.
If you have a question, please call the court’s Information Center at 1-855-212-1234.  

7.   If I have to go to a court to file an emergency request, what can I expect at the courthouse door?
All courthouse locations are conducting screenings to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The screening questions you will have to answer are:

  • Have you been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19?
  • Have you had a fever or felt feverish in the last 72 hours?
  • Are you experiencing any respiratory symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat, cough, or shortness of breath?
  • Are you experiencing any new muscle aches or chills?
  • Have you experienced any new change in your sense of taste or smell?  

Additionally, all persons entering a courthouse are required to wear a face covering over both the mouth and nose.

8.     What if I can’t print out the forms I need to complete?
If you make a request, the Information Center can mail the forms you need. Your receipt of these forms may be delayed at this time. If the forms are fillable electronically, the Information Center can email them to you.
 
9.   How do I get copies of documents I need from court files when the courts are only open for limited purposes?
Requests for copies of court records must be submitted by mail or dropped in the drop box at a court location between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.
 
10.       Can I come to a courthouse to review a file?
No, you will not be able to review a court file at the courthouse until it reopens to the general public. Check the current emergency orders for further information.
 
11.   I need to file a document for a hearing that is coming up soon, and the document requires notarization. How do I get it notarized?                                    
During the state of emergency, the courts will accept all documents without notarization.  However, the document will have to be notarized later, when courthouses reopen to the general public.
 
12.   I owe a fine to the court. Will the court accept payment?
Yes. Fine payments via check can be mailed to the court. Alternatively, you can call the Information Center, which will route you to the court where the fine is owed so you can provide credit card information. Fine payments may not be brought to courts under the current emergency orders. NOTE: Due dates for fines are no longer extended. If you owe a fine to the court and are unable to pay, you must file a motion with the court requesting relief.
 
Parenting/Divorce
 
13.   I have a parenting plan as part of my court order.  Is it in effect during this time?
Yes. All court orders are in effect, including parenting plans. It is important to follow the terms of your parenting plan. Of course, it’s important to be flexible where possible because of the disruptions brought about by COVID-19. If you want to change or enforce your parenting plan, you can file the appropriate paperwork to do so.
 
14.   May I file for an emergency order in my divorce or parenting case at this time?
Yes.  Emergency relief is available if there is a basis for an emergency order.  The standard for filing for an ex parte (emergency) order is that immediate and irreparable injury or loss will result to the applicant or the child if relief is not granted.  If you believe an emergency order is necessary, you can use form NHJB-2076-F. Your completed form must be brought to the courthouse in person so a judge can make a decision while you are there. If you will not pass the health screening questions (See Question 7) or cannot leave your house, please call the Information Center at 1-855-212-1234.
 
15.   My spouse and I want to get divorced. What can we do?
You can file a joint petition for divorce by mailing it to the court nearest you. If you would like to complete the paperwork for a divorce prior to filing the petition, you can contact a mediator to see if you can come to an agreement with your spouse. If the judge reviews and approves the agreement, you may not need to come to court in the future. 

You can also file an individual petition for divorce by mailing it to the court nearest you. Then the court will send you paperwork to be served on the other person. You can still seek mediation to see if you can come to an agreement.

16. I filed a divorce or parenting case, or am part of an existing divorce or parenting case, but nothing has happened yet. When can I expect the next event in my case?
Courts are beginning to schedule remote events in divorce and parenting cases that involve minor children and divorces that need hearings shorter than three hours. You will receive notification soon about your next event. If you have filed a case and have minor children in common, you will meet remotely with a case manager. The case manager will ask you questions about the situation and guide you to the next step in the process. Please watch this video to learn more about the court process.

17. My financial circumstances have changed. I’d like to change the child support order in my case. How do I do so?
If you would like the court to consider changing your child support order, please file the Petition to Change Support Order. The court is hearing these cases, so you will receive hearing information, likely for a telephonic hearing, soon after filing.

Domestic Violence

18.   I need to file for an order of protection or a restraining order, how do I do that?
If you are in immediate danger, call 911. The court forms to request an order of protection are available online or in person at the courthouse. Unless you are working with a Crisis Center or Family Justice Center, completed forms must be brought to the courthouse in person so a judge can make a decision while you are there. If you will not pass the health screening questions (See Question 7) or cannot leave your house, please call the Information Center at 1-855-212-1234.  For assistance with safety planning, information, and referrals, crisis center victim advocates are available 24/7 at 1-866-644-3574 (domestic violence and stalking) and 1-800-277-5570 (sexual assault).

19. Is it possible to file for an order of protection or restraining order electronically?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, until further notice, individuals may be able to file a Domestic Violence or Stalking Petition electronically into a specially created email box by contacting a Crisis Center or Family Justice Center. Individuals are still able to file Domestic Violence and Stalking petitions in person at any Circuit Court location. For more information, please review the Circuit Court’s webpage on Domestic Violence and Stalking Petitions.

Juvenile Matters
 
20.   I am involved in a juvenile case for my child through a Delinquency case, a CHINS case or an Abuse/Neglect case.  Is my hearing still being held during this time?
It depends. If your child has been detained at a secured facility or placed out of home, then the hearing will be held, although it will likely happen telephonically. You should have received a revised hearing notice explaining how to access the telephonic or video hearing; if you did not, you should call the court’s Information Center at 1-855-212-1234.
 
If your child is not placed out of the home, then your hearing may or may not be going forward at this time. You may have received a notice that your hearing was cancelled and will be rescheduled at a later date, or you may have received a notice that your hearing will occur but will happen by phone or video. If you did not receive updated information about your child’s case, you should call the court’s Information Center at 1-855-212-1234.
 
21.   I believe a child I know is being abused or neglected. What should I do?
Reports of suspected abuse or neglect are still being taken and investigated. We are all mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse or neglect. Call the DCYF Intake number at (800) 894-5533.

Evictions

Due to rapidly changing Federal law and policy, eviction cases are subject to a variety of new and interconnecting requirements and restrictions. This FAQ section attempts to answer some of the basic questions about how the Circuit Court is responding to these new policies. However, given the complex and evolving nature of Federal policy, landlords and tenants should seek legal counsel regarding their rights and obligations in evictions cases.

Tenants

22.  Can I be evicted by my landlord?
It depends on the reason for the eviction. All commercial evictions, and residential evictions based on the following reasons, are proceeding as normal:

  • Engaging in criminal activity while on the premises;
  • Threatening the health or safety of other residents;
  • Damaging the property;
  • Violating health and safety regulation; or
  • Violating a provision of the lease, other than payment of rent or other charges.

If the eviction is for any other reason, including non-payment of rent, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an agency Order, effective September 4, 2020, prohibiting landlords from pursuing an eviction of residential tenants if the tenant provides a declaration of certain facts to the landlord. The declaration, signed under penalty of perjury, must include factual statements that the tenant:

  • Has used best efforts to obtain available government assistance for rent or housing;
  • Expects to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income for Calendar Year 2020 (or no more than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return); or were not required to report any income in 2019 to the IRS, or you received a stimulus check due to the CARES Act;
  • Is unable to pay the full rent or make a full housing payment due to substantial loss of household income, loss of compensable hours of work or wages, a lay-off, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses;
  • Is making best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as possible, taking into account other nondiscretionary expenses; and
  • Being evicted would cause the tenant to be homeless— or forced to move into and live in close quarters in a hotel or other shared living setting— because the tenant has no other available housing options.

The federal government has prepared the attached declaration for tenants to use.  If the above statements are all true and the tenant provides the declaration, the landlord may not pursue an eviction. This means the landlord cannot serve an eviction notice, seek a landlord/tenant writ, or obtain or serve a writ of possession, through December 31, 2020. Landlords in eviction actions must notify the court about whether the tenant has provided a declaration when the landlord first requests to start the court process, as well as if the tenant provides a declaration under the CDC Order at any time prior to the service of a Writ of Possession by the sheriff. Violation of the CDC Order is a federal crime.

23. Do I have to pay part of the rent to halt the eviction?
You are not required to make partial payments to trigger the protections of the Order, nor are you required to provide documentation to support the assertions in your declaration. Instead, giving a declaration containing the proper assertions to your landlord is sufficient to trigger the protections of the CDC Order.

24. Do I have to keep paying rent?
Your obligation to pay rent, including back rent, is not changed by this Order.

25. I received a Landlord Tenant Writ telling me to file an appearance in court if I want to challenge my eviction. I gave my landlord the declaration. Do I still need to file an appearance?
Yes. The CDC Order only halts evictions through December 31, 2020. Filing an appearance with the court tells the court that you want to contest the eviction when residential evictions resume and ensures that the court is able to notify you of any developments in the case. Also, if a hearing is scheduled after you file an appearance, please attend the hearing. You can then tell the judge anything you think they should know, including whether you gave a declaration to your landlord.

26. I am appealing my case and was ordered to pay rent to the court. What should I do now?
If you were ordered to pay rent to the court while appealing your case, you must continue to do so. The obligation to pay rent to the court is not changed by the CDC Order; all payment obligations continue until a judge says otherwise. If you fail to pay rent, you may lose the opportunity for the Supreme Court to hear your case. However, if you are covered by the CDC Order and you give the proper declaration to your landlord, a Writ of Possession may not be served on you until after December 31, 2020.

27. Can my landlord turn off my heat during this State of Emergency?
No. Landlords are always prohibited from willfully causing the interruption or termination of any utility service provided to a tenant, except as necessary for repairs and emergencies. If your utilities are shut off by your landlord you can seek emergency relief through a petition.

Landlords

28. May I evict a tenant?
It depends on the type of tenant and the reason for the eviction. Non-residential evictions, and residential evictions based on the following reasons, are proceeding as normal:

  • Engaging in criminal activity while on the premises;
  • Threatening the health or safety of other residents;
  • Damaging the property;
  • Violating health and safety regulation; or
  • Violating a provision of the lease, other than payment of rent or other charges.

Residential evictions based on any other reason, including non-payment of rent, are subject to an Order by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) temporarily halting evictions. If the tenant gives you a declaration that complies with the CDC order, you may not pursue an eviction until January 1, 2021. The tenant may give you the declaration at any time, including prior to service of an eviction notice and up until the writ of possession is served by the sheriff. Once you receive the declaration, you must notify the court (if you have an eviction case in progress) and immediately stop pursuing the eviction. Violation of the CDC order is a Federal crime. If the tenant does not give you a declaration, however, you may pursue an eviction as normal.

29.   Do my tenants still owe rent?
Their obligation to pay rent, including back rent, is not changed by the CDC Order. The Order says you may continue “charging or collecting of fees, penalties, or interest as a result of the failure to pay rent or other housing payment on a timely basis, under the terms of any applicable contract.”

30. What do I need to file with the court to start or continue a residential eviction?
You must file an Affidavit of Compliance with Federal Law and provide a copy of the Affidavit to the tenant in order to receive a Landlord Tenant Writ and start a case. If a residential eviction was in progress as of September 4, 2020 (i.e., a Writ of Possession had not yet been issued), you must file an updated Affidavit, noting whether your tenant has given you a declaration under the CDC order. If you do not file the updated Affidavit, your case will not move forward.

31. When will I receive a writ of possession based on non-payment of rent?
The court began processing non-payment of rent cases on July 1, 2020. As long as you complied with federal and state law and a judgment for landlord was entered, Writs of Possession were issued between July 1, 2020, and September 4, 2020. For cases still in process on September 4, 2020, Writs of Possession will issue if you file a new Affidavit, the tenant has not provided a declaration under the CDC Order, judgment for you was entered, and the tenant has not appealed. Writs of Possession will not issue if you fail to provide a new Affidavit or if the tenant provides a declaration to you. For cases initiated between September 4, 2020, and December 31, 2020, you must provide an Affidavit attesting that tenant has not provided a declaration before receiving a Landlord Tenant Writ. If a Landlord Tenant Writ issues, the tenant does not provide a declaration at any time prior to eviction, and judgment is entered for you, a Writ of Possession will issue.

32. I have heard that the federal CARES Act affects evictions. How does the Act affect my case?
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a federal law enacted on March 27, 2020. The CARES Act provides some protection to residential tenants in certain “covered properties,” as defined by the law, including any property that has a federally backed mortgage loan or participates, or has any tenant participating, in various federal housing programs. The CARES Act prohibited landlords of covered properties from starting any eviction for non-payment of rent or fees from March 27 through July 25, 2020, and prohibits starting any eviction for non-payment of rent or fees during any period when the property is receiving forbearance on any federally backed multi-family mortgage. After the moratorium or forbearance ends, landlords seeking to evict tenants from covered units for non-payment of rent must provide 30 days’ notice prior to filing an eviction action. The notice may not be served on the tenant until the moratorium or forbearance period ends. So, for all covered properties, the CARES Act prohibited filing any eviction action until August 25, 2020 at the earliest, because the 30-day notice required by the Act could not be served on the tenant prior to July 26, 2020. The 30-day notice requirement remains in effect indefinitely.

To ensure compliance with the CARES Act, you must file an Affidavit of Compliance with Federal Law documenting your compliance with, or exemption from, the CARES Act. The court will not enter (or, in the case of actions already filed, will not schedule hearings or issue writs of possession for) eviction actions based on non-payment of rent without this affidavit. The affidavit can be found of the court’s website.

33. May I challenge the declaration my tenants have provided?
You are required to notify the court at any time a declaration is provided to them by the tenant. The notification is in the form of the revised CARES Act Affidavit, now titled Affidavit of Compliance with Federal Law. If the declaration is provided AFTER this Affidavit has been filed, you must also notify the Court immediately.

The CDC Order does not explicitly provide for a judge to review the validity of a declaration provided by a tenant. Ultimately, it will be up to the judge to decide whether and how the tenant’s declaration may be reviewed.

Criminal Matters

34. My criminal hearing has been cancelled but I would like to resolve it now. How can I enter a plea of guilty?
If you have an attorney and have reached a plea agreement, your attorney may contact the court to request that a telephonic plea be scheduled. If you do not have an attorney, reach out to the prosecutor to negotiate.  If you have reached an agreement with the prosecutor, the prosecutor may contact the court to request that a telephonic plea be scheduled. You will receive notice from the court when it is scheduled.

35. I was told that I would not have an arraignment. How will my case proceed?
The Court will automatically enter a plea of “not guilty” on your behalf and schedule your first hearing which will be a “telephonic status conference”. You will also receive copies of your complaints in the mail with some additional information based on the level of offense you are charged with. For example, if you are charged with a Class A misdemeanor, you may wish to request court appointed counsel to represent you and should fill out a Request for Lawyer form as soon as possible and mail or bring it to the court.

36. What happens after the “telephonic status conference”?
Some cases will be resolved at the status conference by plea or will be scheduled for a plea in the future. Some cases will be scheduled for a trial to be held in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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