The New Hampshire court system consists of a Circuit Court Family Division, Circuit Court District Division, Circuit Court Probate Division, Superior Court and Supreme Court. Following is a description of each branches of court, their jurisdictions and appellate level explanations:
The New Hampshire Circuit Court Family Division operates branches in each of the state's ten counties, totaling 28 courts: Belknap, Carroll, Coos, Cheshire, Grafton, Hillsborough, Merrimack, Rockingham, Strafford and Sullivan Counties. These courts exercise jurisdiction over child support, divorce, domestic violence, abuse and neglect, parental and guardian rights and juvenile delinquency cases.
The Circuit Court Probate Division exercises jurisdiction over estates, wills and trusts, adoptions, equity and guardianship of incapacitated persons cases. There is one division judge for this branch of court in each of the state's ten counties.
There are 32 locations of the Circuit Court District Division, each with its own justice in various cities. These courts exercise jurisdiction over landlord/tenant cases, civil cases with claims up to $25,000, misdemeanor and traffic violations, domestic violence petitions and small claims up to $5,000.
New Hampshire has 11 Superior Court locations within its 10 counties. 19 justices serve these courts. Their jurisdiction includes felony offenses, jury trials for civil and criminal cases, and certain civil claims of damages up to $1,500. The Superior Court also serves as the appellate court for cases from the District Court.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court is the court of last resort, serving as the appellate for all levels of court. This court may hear civil, criminal, juvenile and administrative agency cases. New Hampshire's executive and legislative branches also sometimes ask the Supreme Court to issue opinions on legal matters. There are a total of five justices who serve on this court.
New Hampshire also employs an Alternative Dispute Resolution, or ADR, program. Though less formal than the court system, the ADR program gives citizens the option to attempt to resolve their cases without litigation. This program saves money in court costs for the state as well as the parties involved. There are four specific branches to the ADR program: civil mediation in Superior Court; marital neutral evaluation in Family Division; marital mediation in Family Division and mediation in the Probate Division.
In 1997, Claremont School District v. Governor of New Hampshire was noted for ruling on the constitutionality of school funding allocation. There were several cases leading to this final decision which began in 1993. The city of Claremont essentially alleged the allocation of education funds, as determined by the state, was unconstitutional. Five school districts, children and taxpayers from each district comprised the plaintiffs. At the time, there was an 8 percent cap on state aid given to public schools, allegedly failing to "'spread educational opportunities equitably among its students."
The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that the funding system was in fact unconstitutional. Another suit was filed in 2005 by the plaintiffs, stating the state had yet to meet its constitutional requirements. The court then ordered the state to define a "'constitutionally adequate education" by June 2007 in Londonderry School District v. State.