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CONCORD, NH – Twenty five people – mostly fathers who believe they were discriminated against in divorce proceedings – shared heart-wrenching and sometimes angry stories with several lawmakers and the judge who oversees family court at an ad hoc meeting May 25 in Concord.
A handful of mothers and at least one grandmother also provided testimony – most accusing the family court system of ignoring their complex situations and choosing instead to tear families apart. A few brought teenage and young adult children who told even sadder tales of broken homes and the pain inflicted on their families by the court system.
Jacob Barry, 20, of Nashua, testified with his mother Dianne Lyons. He criticized the courts and all of the agencies that were involved in their case, including the FBI.
“It has absolutely destroyed my family,” Barry said of the court system. “I have not seen my three siblings in four years.”
State Reps. Kimberly Rice, R-Hudson, Frank Edelblut, R-Wilton, Sen. Sharon Carson, R-Londonderry, and Judge Edwin Kelly, administrator of the Circuit Courts, sat on the panel at the Upham-Walker House across the street from the statehouse.
Dianne Lyons directed her comments to Judge Kelly, reminding him that he previously told her there is nothing he can do to help. She disagreed.
“You can call these judges into your chambers. You are the administrative judge of the Circuit Court. You are ultimately responsible for what occurs in these courtrooms,” Lyons said. “I am now homeless. My son and I are homeless.”
One after the other, parents were allowed three minutes to detail their complaints, many of whom cited the loss of their due process rights. Some complained about being falsely accused of abusing their children, of being forced to stand idly by while others abused their children, and of ex-spouses and judges and guardians ad litem who were disinterested, or worse.
They complained of gender discrimination and greed on the part of judges, attorneys, guardians and the system in general. Some complained they hadn’t been allowed to see their children in years.
One father said it has been a decade since he has seen his daughter.
Rep. Rice, a member of House Children and Family Law Committee, said she has heard from so many individuals about their problems with family courts that she and Rep. Edelblut decided to hold the fact-gathering meeting. “We felt there was a need,” Rice said.
John Kelly, no relation to the judge, testified that he has had plenty of time since his divorce in 2002 to consider the nature of the family court system.
“First of all, I was lucky. All I lost were my life savings. I talk to lots of people who lost their children, lost their health and lost their jobs,” Kelly said. “I did lose my faith in the court system…”
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About InDepthNH: Nancy West founded the nonprofit New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism in April. West is the executive editor of the center’s investigative news website, InDepthNH.org. West has won many awards for investigative reporting during her 30 years at the New Hampshire Union Leader. She has taught investigative journalism at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting’s summer program for pre-college students at Boston University. West is passionate about government transparency. The New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism is a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News, formerly called Investigative News Network, which is also InDepthNH.org’s fiscal sponsor. Click here to read about INN to learn more about the mission of nonprofit news.