IN THE MATTER OF STEVEN SUMMERS AND CHRISTINE SUMMERS
Argued: June 18, 2019
Circuit Court-Merrimack Family Division
Smith-Weiss Shepard, P.C., of Nashua (Robert M. Shepard on
the brief and orally), for the petitioner.
Solomon Professional Association, of Londonderry (Elaine M.
Kennedy on the brief and orally), for the respondent.
respondent, Christine Summers (Mother), appeals and the
petitioner, Steven Summers (Father), cross-appeals an order
of the Circuit Court (Ryan, J.) dated March 2, 2018,
which modified the parties' prior parenting plans. On
appeal, Mother contends that the trial court unreasonably
failed to grant her equal parenting time after finding that
she was sober, had complied with the court's prior
orders, and had a strong bond with the parties' children.
In his cross-appeal, Father argues that the trial court
lacked statutory authority to modify the parties' prior
parenting plans because Mother neither pleaded nor proved a
statutory ground for modification. We affirm.
following facts either were found by the trial court or
relate the contents of documents submitted as part of the
appellate record. The parties are parents of twins born in
October 2009. According to Mother, Father filed for divorce
in January 2014. The trial court entered a temporary
parenting plan in August 2014, which awarded the parties
joint decision-making responsibility for their children and
granted them roughly equal parenting time.
final hearing on the parties' divorce was held in
September 2015. According to Father, in March 2016, he filed
an emergency motion to suspend Mother's time with the
children because of Mother's active alcoholism, averring
that Mother had been removed from her parents' home by
the police while the children were there. According to
Father, police observed that Mother had slurred speech, was
unsteady on her feet, and was difficult to converse with.
Father asserts that, in April 2016, the trial court ordered
Mother to submit "to an EtG Hair Alcohol Test"
within ten days and that her parenting time would be
supervised by her parents, and ordered her parents to notify
the children's guardian ad litem (GAL) of any alcohol use
by Mother. See RSA 461-A:9 (2018) (concerning ex
parte orders). In that order, according to Father, the
trial court observed that, although Mother denied having a
drinking problem, the police "found a nearly full bottle
of Vodka, an empty bottle of wine, six empty beer cans, an
empty bottle of Vodka, an empty box of wine, a full box of
wine and an empty bag of wine" in her bedroom.
24, 2016, Father filed a second emergency motion to suspend
Mother's parenting time based upon her active alcoholism.
In that motion, he alleged that Mother had been arrested
twice in one week for driving while intoxicated (DWI). He
averred that those were not her first arrests for DWI. The
GAL assented to the motion and alleged that Mother had been
arrested for DWI in Candia on June 20 and in Bedford on June
23. The trial court entered an ex parte order
granting Father temporary sole decision-making and
residential responsibility for the children. See id.
trial court held a hearing on August 2, and, according to
Father, verbally modified its ex parte order to
allow Mother to have supervised parenting time with the
children on Sunday and Tuesday. See id. On October
31, 2016, the trial court entered its final decree in the
parties' divorce and a final parenting plan.
October 2016 parenting plan grants the parties joint
decision-making responsibility, see RSA 461-A:5
(2018), and grants Father primary residential responsibility
for the children, see RSA 461-A:6, I-III (2018)
(amended 2018). Under the plan, Mother has parenting time
with the children "[e]very other weekend from Friday
after school until Sunday at 7:00 pm" and "[e]very
Wednesday from after school until Thursday morning at the
beginning of school." The plan provides that, as Mother
"resides with her parents," her "parenting
time shall be supervised by her parents until this Parenting
Plan is modified by agreement of the parties or an Order from
[the] court." The parenting plan precludes both parents
from abusing alcohol or using illegal drugs.
narrative order accompanying the October 2016 plan, the trial
court discussed Mother's request to make the parenting
It should be noted that all the hearings held after the Final
Hearing [in September 2015] were due [to Mother's]
alcohol addiction. Throughout this process, [Mother] has not
been honest with the Court about her alcohol issues. She has
attempted to either minimize her alcoholism or hide it
entirely from the Court. She has been arrested at least 3
times for DWI during the pendency of this action, the police
have reported bottles of alcohol in her bedroom at her
parents' home. While she would like the Court to make any
Parenting Plan temporary so that she can finally deal with
her problems, the Court is not inclined to do so.
court stated that the parenting plan attached to its
narrative order "is Final," but that "it is
subject to review in 6 months to determine if the parenting
schedule should be modified to again allow shared or equal
parenting time." The narrative order further stated that
"[a]ny change or modification in the Parenting Plan
shall be subject to [Mother] addressing her alcoholism in a
meaningful way which would include[, ] at a minimum[, ]
participation in an Intensive Outpatient Program [and] her
continued sobriety," and that any modification would
have to be "in the best interests of the children."
In its narrative order, the trial court specifically found
that because of Mother's active alcohol addiction and her
actions in hiding it from the court, "shared/equal
parenting time is not in the children's best
party appealed to this court the trial court's October
2016 parenting plan or the narrative order accompanying it.
Thus, for the purposes of this appeal, we assume without
deciding that, contrary to Father's contentions, the
review provision set forth in the trial court's October
2016 narrative order was lawful.
days later, on November 2, Father filed a
partially-assented-to third emergency motion to suspend
Mother's parenting time. See RSA 461-A:9. In
that motion, he averred that Mother "has repeatedly
tested positive for alcohol consumption," that she last
saw the children on October 14 and tested positive for
alcohol consumption on that date, and that she "has not
entered intensive out-patient alcohol treatment" or had
"any counseling at all." Father requested that the
court grant him sole decision-making ...