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In re Pierre

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

May 31, 2019


          Argued: March 6, 2019

          2nd Circuit Court-Lebanon Family Division

          Family Legal, PC, of Concord (Jay Markell on the brief and orally), for the petitioner.

          Decato Law Office, of Lebanon (R. Peter Decato on the brief and orally), for the respondent.

          LYNN, C.J.

         The respondent, Adam Thatcher, appeals an order of the Circuit Court (Luneau, J.) granting the emergency motion of the petitioner, Haley St. Pierre, to relocate with her child to Florida. We affirm.


         The following facts were found by the trial court, or are otherwise supported by the record and undisputed on appeal. The respondent and the petitioner met in August 2012. Later that year, they moved in together, having developed a romantic relationship. In February 2013, the petitioner traveled to New York for a weekend, where she had sexual relations with Colby Santaw, her former boyfriend. Shortly thereafter, she discovered that she was pregnant. Upon learning of the pregnancy, she informed the respondent that he was the father, and notified Santaw that he was not. The respondent, having been made aware of the petitioner's intimate relations with Santaw, asked the petitioner if Santaw could be the father. The petitioner assured the respondent that the child was his.

         The child was born on October 31, 2013. An affidavit of paternity was completed by the parties at the hospital following the child's birth. Prior to signing the affidavit, the parties were informed by hospital staff that if they thought there was a chance that the respondent was not the father, they should not sign the affidavit. Section II of the affidavit, labeled "Information About the Child's Natural Father," included the following declaration above the father's signature line:

I am signing this Affidavit voluntarily and of my own free will. No force has been used upon me, and no threats or promises made to me by anyone. I understand that by signing this Affidavit I am declaring I am the natural father of the child named above . . . and accept financial and legal responsibility for the child and shall be subject to the child support provisions of RSA 168-A:2. I understand that a signed Affidavit is a finding of paternity equal to a finding by a court of law.

         Following completion of the affidavit by the parties, the respondent was listed as the child's father on the birth certificate.

         The parties married in January 2014, and, citing irreconcilable differences, divorced in July 2015. Following the divorce, the petitioner rekindled her relationship with Santaw. On a trip together in October 2015, the petitioner and Santaw began discussing the birthdate of the child. After considering the timing of his intimate relationship with the petitioner and the child's date of birth, Santaw believed that he might be the child's father. This belief was strengthened when he compared baby pictures of the child to his own baby pictures, and noticed a resemblance. Shortly thereafter, the petitioner and Santaw agreed to conduct genetic testing. In October 2015, these test results confirmed that Santaw was the child's biological father.

         Following this discovery, the petitioner, as a self-represented litigant, filed a "Petition to Change Court Order" in the trial court, requesting that the court amend the parties' parenting plan, instituted after their divorce, by removing the respondent's name from the child's birth certificate, changing the child's last name, and granting the petitioner full custody. In support of this request, the petitioner stated that the respondent was not the child's biological father, that the biological father was filing for custody rights, and that the biological parents (the petitioner and Santaw) now lived together and wished "to keep the biological nuclear family intact." Santaw intervened, requesting that the court award him parental rights as the child's biological father, issue a parenting plan describing those parental rights, and change the child's last name to "Santaw."

         The respondent filed an answer and counterclaim in December 2015, in which he asserted that he stood in loco parentis to the child because he had intentionally accepted the rights and duties of natural parenthood. He further claimed that, although he was not the child's biological father, he was her "psychological parent," as he had demonstrated "a full commitment to raising and caring for [her]." He stated that it was the court's duty to "protect the interests of the child in custody determinations," and asked that the court ...

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