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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 open for some hearings. The March 27 Order regarding Circuit Court details the case types for which hearings are being held between April 7 and May 4, 2020.    Those include:
  1. Criminal matters involving incarcerated defendants;
  2. Orders of protection for domestic violence, stalking  and juvenile abuse;
  3. Child-related emergency orders in divorce/parenting;
  4.  Temporary hearings in divorce/parenting cases;
  5. Hearings on the establishment or modification of child support;
  6. Abuse/neglect cases if children are in out-of-home placement;
  7.  Delinquency and CHINS cases if juvenile is detained or in an out-of-home placement;
  8.  Emergency injunctive relief;
  9.  Emergency mental health orders, including Involuntary Emergency Admission and Involuntary Admission (probate commitment) proceedings;
  10. Emergency orders in minor guardianship cases or guardianship over incapacitated persons;  and
  11. Emergency relief in landlord/tenant matters.

 
In addition, the April 24 Order regarding Circuit Court details the additional case types for which hearings are being held between May 4 and May 25, 2020. During that period the case types above and the following case types will have hearings:

  1. Petitions for guardianship of minors or guardianship over incapacitated persons, and hearings on such orders.
  2. Termination of tenancy based on substantial damage to the premises by the tenant or behavior of the tenant which adversely affects the health or safety of the other tenants or landlord.
  3. Hearings on any emergency relief ordered in divorce/parenting cases.

All hearings 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 May 25, please contact the Information Center at 1-855-212-1234.  If you have not received a court notice and your hearing is on May 25 or after, your hearing is still scheduled to proceed.  If this emergency situation continues beyond May 25, a new Supreme Court Order with 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?

Currently, the Supreme Court Order runs until May 25. At that time, the Court will either reschedule your hearing or proceed based on an additional Supreme Court Order. 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.
 
 

Access to Circuit Courthouses

6.   I need to file a document with the court.  How do I do that?
If the filing involves an emergency (see Question 1), you may file at the courthouse, if you also pass the screening questions (see Question 7). You can also mail emergency filings to theappropriate 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 filing, 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:

  1. Do you presently have, or in the past 72 hours have you experienced, a fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing?
  2. Have you recently travelled out-of-state for a reason other than to return to your home?
  3. Have you had contact with someone who has been diagnosed by a medical professional as COVID-19 positive or presumptive positive or have you had contact with someone awaiting test results?

 
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 but your receipt of these forms may be delayed at this time. . If the forms are fillable, 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 emergencies?
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 the clerk’s office reopens to the general public. Currently, that date is May 25, 2020, at 8 a.m.
 
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?                                    
Until May 25, the courts will accept all documents without notarization.   However, the document will have to be notarized later, when clerks’ offices reopen to the general public.
 
12.   I owe a fine that came due between March 16 and May 25, 2020.  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 to provide credit card information. Fine payments may not be brought to courts until May 25.  NOTE: Due dates for fines that came due from March 16 to May 3, 2020, have been extended until May 4, 2020. They are due on that day and the due date will not be extended further.


 

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 the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders and the closing of businesses.
 
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 formNHJB-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 now that the courts are not hearing these cases?
You can still file ajoint 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 cancontact 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. 

Domestic Violence


16. 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 availableonline or in person at the courthouse. 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 6) 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).

Matters Involving Children


 
17.   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.
 
18.   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

19.  Can I be evicted by my landlord during this State of Emergency?
It depends.
Based on the March 27 Supreme Court Order, the Circuit Court is not currently processing eviction actions.
However, based on the April 24 Supreme Court Order, the Circuit Court will begin processing eviction actions on May 4 in two very limited circumstances: 1) if the eviction is based on “substantial damage to the premises by the tenant, members of his household or guests”; or 2) if the eviction is based on “behavior of the tenant or family member which adversely affects the health or safety of the other tenants or landlord.”

In anticipation of that change on May 4, the court is processing emergency requests by tenants and landlords, which may include relief against tenants who are alleged to be damaging the premises or interfering with other tenants’ right to quiet enjoyment of their tenancies.
The April 24 Order also extends court rules and statutes related to eviction, except for the circumstance above, until May 25, 2020. This extension includes the time a tenant has to respond to a landlord’s notice of eviction.
If your landlord evicts you during the State of Emergency, you can seek emergency relief through a petition.
 
20.  Can my landlord turn off my heat during this State of Emergency?
 No, your utilities cannot be legally disconnected during the State of Emergency. If your utilities are shut off by your landlord you can seek emergency relief through a petition.
 
21.  How do I pay my rent to the court when the court is closed?
 Before considering paying rent into the court, please be sure that the Court’s Order requires payment of rent to the Court rather than to the Landlord.  If payment of rent is to be made to the court, contact the local court for further instructions.

22. When will landlords receive the writ of possession based on non-payment of rent?
It depends on when the Supreme Court determines the courts will begin hearing all eviction matters again. We will keep this FAQ updated if any further Orders come.

Criminal Matters

23.  My criminal hearing has been cancelled but I would like to resolve it now. Can I enter a plea of guilty? How?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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