How NH Courts Work
This section contains information about how each section of the court system operates.
The Supreme Court makes decisions either by the full, five-member court or, depending on the issue presented, by a three-judge panel. The Supreme Court has jurisdiction to review and decide appeals from the State trial courts and from many State administrative agencies. It also has jurisdiction to issue writs of certiorari, prohibition, and habeas corpus, along with other writs. The duties of the Supreme Court include correcting errors in trial court proceedings, interpreting case law and statutes and the State and federal constitutions, and administration of the courts. The Supreme Court consists of a Chief Justice and four Associate Justices.
- The Supreme Court is the only appellate court in the state.
- The Supreme Court handles appeals from the Circuit Court and the Superior Court.
The Superior Court (which is actually a group of 11 courts, each called a “Superior Court”) handles all types of civil and criminal trials except those exclusively subject to the jurisdiction of the Circuit Courts. All ten New Hampshire counties have one or more Superior Courts. The ten New Hampshire counties are, in alphabetical order, Belknap, Carroll, Cheshire, Coos, Grafton, Hillsborough, Merrimack, Rockingham, Strafford and Sullivan. Nine of these countries have a single Superior Court. Hillsborough County has two.
There are now 20 full-time judges serving on the Superior Court throughout the state. Under the State constitution, the Governor, with approval of a majority of the Executive Council appoints judges who hold office until they attain the age of 70.
The Superior Court hears the following types of cases:
- Negligence, contracts, real property rights and other civil matters with a minimum claim of $1,500 in damages in which either party requests a trial by jury. The Superior Court has exclusive jurisdiction over cases in which the damage claims exceed $25,000.
- Felonies (major crimes such as drugs, burglary, theft and aggravated felonious sexual assault).
- Misdemeanor appeals from the Circuit Court District Division.
The Circuit Court was created in 2011 by legislatively combining the District Court, Probate Court and Family Division into one unified court with centralized management. It now has the judicial authority to hear and decide cases across three divisions – the District Division, the Family Division and the Probate Division. The state is divided into 10 Circuits, one for each county. Within those circuits are 34 Circuit Courts serving local communities.
In District Division cases, judges hold non-jury trials on misdemeanor and violation charges. They also decide landlord & tenant matters, civil matters, and small business claims involving less than $10,000, and stalking cases. There are 32 District Divisions in Circuit Courts statewide.
The Family Division handles, among other things, divorce and parenting issues, child support, minor guardianship, abuse/neglect matters, delinquency and children in need of services cases, and domestic violence cases.
Mediation is emphasized in the Family Division and sometimes required, especially when minor children are involved. Decisions in Family Division cases are made by judges. Any recommendation made by marital masters and child support referees must be approved by a judge. There are 28 Family Divisions in ten counties: Belknap, Carroll, Coos, Cheshire, Grafton, Hillsborough, Merrimack, Rockingham, Strafford and Sullivan.
The Probate Division has jurisdiction over trusts, wills and estates, adoptions, termination of parental rights, guardianships, equity matters, name changes and involuntary commitments. Judicial officers in the Probate Division decide if a guardian should be appointed to make decisions about an individual’s health and financial well-being. They also determine whether an adult should be involuntarily committed to a state hospital because the court has determined, after hearing testimony, that the person is a danger to themselves or others. Each county has a Probate Division.