Judicial Branch, State of New Hampshire
| For Immediate Release:
January 25, 2016
All Guardianships now filed on-line statewide
CONCORD, N.H. - The Judicial Branch today announced that all new Guardianship filings in the Family and Probate Divisions of the Circuit Court are now being processed on-line. Electronic Guardianship filings began back in June 2015 as part of the NH e-Court project, starting with pilot programs in Brentwood and Laconia. As of January 1,358 filings have been successfully submitted from across all of the state’s ten counties. That number is expected to grow to 2,500 petitions by the end of 2016.
Gina Belmont, Senior Administrator of the Circuit Court system, spearheaded the guardianship project, as well as the court’s switch to electronic filings for small claims cases that began in 2014. She credits small claims with paving the way for all future case types going on-line and was also able to draw distinctions with guardianships.
“With electronic filing,” she said, “our probate and family judges are now working with more accurate and complete information in a very timely fashion, but there are different emotions in play. With small claims, you are usually talking about a transaction between acquaintances or strangers that went bad, which can lead to strong feelings. However, with Guardianships, the filer is dealing with the well-being of an adult who is incapacitated or a child whose welfare is at risk, both of which can be difficult processes, particularly considering that the filer is often a family member of that incapacitated adult or at-risk child. With Guardianships, we are also talking about situations that often involve additional stakeholders, such as nursing homes or hospitals, which have unique needs to their roles in these cases. Moreover, some Guardianships last for years, or even decades. So for Guardianships, filing is only the beginning of a long road ahead.”
While a large percentage of Guardianships are filed by individuals on their home computers needing no assistance, family and probate divisions across the state still see a significant number of individuals using courthouse kiosks. Belmont gives tremendous credit to court staff who help these individuals start the filing process, saying, “They give them the support they need and the ability to collect their thoughts as they sit at the e-Filing computer during a difficult time in their lives.”
The view from the bench is equally positive. Deputy Administrative Judge David D. King presides over cases involving guardianships in circuit courts throughout the state. “Judges appreciate that making big changes to any filing process can be disruptive. I commend everyone for stepping up and making electronic filings for guardianships a success. Already we are seeing a more standard and efficient approach. The court is also able to deal consistently with early issues such as waiving filing fees and making faster rulings on expedited requests.” King added, “We are greatly reducing delays in getting orders out to the affected parties because they are now being sent by email, instead of regular mail. Best of all, electronic filing goes a long way to helping ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.”
Belmont added that the process of bringing all family and probate courts on-line regarding Guardianships began in June, 2015 and was completed in three phases over six months’ time. Then last October, half of the remaining courts went on-line, and they were followed by the remaining courts in December.
For the remainder of 2016, Belmont stated that the circuit court has a clear focus: making continued enhancements to the e-Filing process. “Changes this large that affect so many people,” she said, “require continuous attention and improvements for efficiency and user-friendliness.”