In re J.H.; In re A.H.Annotate this Case
Father challenged the Circuit Court’s authority to hold a hearing to determine his parental fitness to regain custody of his children, J.H. and A.H., following the dismissal of the neglect petitions filed by the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) against him. Father also appealed the trial court’s dispositional order imposing conditions on him before his children could be returned to his custody, after finding that the children were neglected by Mother but not by Father. Father asserted that, upon the dismissal of the neglect petitions against him, he was presumed to be a fit parent. Because he was not found to have abused or neglected his children in the adjudicatory phase of the RSA chapter 169-C proceedings, the New Hampshire Supreme Court agreed that Father was a presumptively fit parent at that stage of the proceedings. The Court disagreed, however, that the court was required to immediately return the children to Father’s custody. Instead, the Court concluded that holding an additional hearing to determine Father’s parental fitness did not violate his constitutionally protected fundamental right to parent. Although Father regained his presumption of fitness once the neglect petitions against him were dismissed, “parental rights are not absolute, but are subordinate to the State’s parens patriae power, and must yield to the welfare of the child.” Here, the neglect finding against Mother and the fact that Father and Mother lived together constituted “unusual and serious” circumstances that justified the court’s continued intervention in the relationship between Father and his children. The Supreme Court affirmed the Circuit Court's judgment.