Divorce Parenting Frequently Asked Questions

It’s here – you, your partner or the two of you as a couple have decided that the best thing for you is to file for divorce.  No matter how you got here, the decision is an intensely emotional and personal one that may leave you emotionally reeling and overwhelmed with questions: Where do I even start? Does it cost money to ask the Court to help me? How much? What if I can’t afford it?  What if I have children? What happens to them?  The questions seem to pile up and every time you think you’ve reached the end of the questions, more seem to pop up.

One of our goals in our first meeting is to answer some basic, frequently asked questions related to the divorce process and to help you develop an action plan related to your unique circumstances.  This blog post is intended to provide you with some general information related to the divorce process so that you may come to your first meeting with a basic understanding of the divorce process and so that you can make the most of the time that you spend with us.

How is the divorce process started in New Hampshire?

In New Hampshire, the divorce process begins with the filing of a Petition for Divorce.  Petitions for Divorce may be found online at the New Hampshire Judicial Branch Website. Hard copies of Petitions may also be obtained by visiting your nearest Family Division location. If you are filing a Petition for Divorce, you should be prepared to pay a filing fee at the time that you file your Petition. If children are involved in the case, the filing fee will be $252.00.  If you do not have children, the filing fee will be $250.00. In certain circumstances, you may be able to successfully ask the Court to waive or reduce the requirement that you pay the filing fee.  Whether you qualify to have the filing fee waived is something that you should ask about at your initial consult, as this determination is made by the Court on a case-by-case basis.

What is a Joint Petition?

A Joint Petition for Divorce is a Petition in which you and your partner are filing for a Divorce together.  You do not need to have your Divorce or Separation settled in full or even in part in order to file a Joint Petition for Divorce.  At a minimum, you will need to agree that a Divorce action needs to be started in the appropriate Family Division.

An Individual Petition for Divorce is a Petition in which you, as an individual, are filing a Petition for Divorce in your local Family Division without your Partner filing the Petition with you.

The filing fees are the same, regardless of whether the Petition you file is a Joint Petition or an Individual Petition.  There may be strategic reasons to file a Petition for Divorce jointly as opposed to individually.  These reasons are determined on a case-by-case basis.  Please contact our firm to set up a time to discuss your case and to determine the steps that best suit your needs.

Will I have to have the Petition served by law enforcement?

If you have filed a Joint Petition for Divorce, you are not required to have the Petition served by your local law enforcement agency. If you have filed an Individual Petition for Divorce, you may be required to have the Petition served.  In the first instance, the Court will notify the other party that there is a packet for them to pick up. If the person fails to pick up their packet within ten days, they will have to be served with the packet.  You may incur an additional expense in this case.

What happens if one spouse wants to get divorced but the other does not?

In New Hampshire, the spouse’s agreement to divorce is not required in order for a divorce to occur. A Divorce Action in this situation may take longer to resolve.

Is New Hampshire a “no fault” divorce state? If so, can a Petition for Divorce based upon grounds still be filed?

New Hampshire is a no-fault state.  In New Hampshire, no-fault divorce is referred to as “irreconcilable differences which have caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage.”  If the Petition for Divorce alleges “irreconcilable differences,” the Court does not have to determine if one person or the other caused the marriage to fail.

In New Hampshire, currently there are nine (9) fault-based grounds for divorce that may still be included in the Petition for Divorce.  These grounds may be included in a Petition for Divorce, even if the Petition also includes no-fault grounds.

Whether there are grounds to allege fault in the Petition and enough evidence to establish fault is determined on a case-by-case basis. We can assist you in determining the answer to this question.

What are the different ways that divorce issues in New Hampshire are decided?

There are five primary ways that the issues that arise in divorce proceedings decided:

  •  Informal Decision-Making involves reaching an agreement with your spouse through informal discussions.
  • Mediation uses a trained neutral third party to assist you and your spouse resolve issues.
  • Collaborative Law involves a team approach to resolving the issues in your divorce or separation. Team members include a coach, financial planner, lawyers and their clients.
  • Negotiation Between the Lawyers occurs where both you and your spouse hire attorneys that discuss resolutions on your behalf.
  • Court Litigation occurs where a marital master or judge makes a decision about the issues in your case after a hearing.

The method of resolution is completely up to you and what works best for you and your family in your current circumstances.  In some cases, one method is used; however in other cases, a combination of methods may be used.  We can assist you in determining what method or methods of resolution work for you.

How long does it take to settle a Divorce, from start to finish?

The length of the process will vary depending upon a number of factors including, but not limited to, the number and complexity of issues that need to be resolved, whether the divorce is contested or uncontested and the method of resolution.  Depending upon your particular set of circumstances, your case could be resolved within a few months or it could go on well over one year.

Is there a difference between visitation/custody and parenting?

In New Hampshire, the words “visitation” and “custody” are no longer used in a legal context to describe situations involving children. Courts, lawyers and other professionals involved in marital cases involving children use words such as, but not limited to, “parenting” and “parenting time,” to refer to situations involving children.  New Hampshire’s policy is that most children do better if they have regular and frequent contact with both parents. Therefore, having a custodial and a non-custodial, or visiting, parent is against that policy.

What happens to my children while everything is pending?

In New Hampshire, it depends on what is going on in your family and with your case.  In some instances, if you and your co-parent have an idea as to what your parenting schedule looks like, you can implement it without a Court order while you sort out the other aspects of your divorce. In other instances, if you believe that you or your child are at risk of irreparable harm because of the acts of your co-parent, a Petition for Ex Parte Relief can be filed or a request for a Temporary Hearing can be filed, at which time the Court will decide what happens with your child or children while your Divorce or Separation is being finalized. In order to determine the best approach for you and your children, please contact us for a consultation.

Who decides what the parenting schedule between co-parents looks like?

In many cases, parents decide what their parenting schedule is on their own or with the assistance of trained mediators or a collaborative team. A judge will later review any agreements that you have come with for approval.

There are certain cases, such as cases involving domestic violence or abuse and neglect of children, where mediation or collaborative practice is not appropriate and where a judge may not order your case into mediation.  In those cases, a judge will determine the parenting plan, usually after a hearing.

How much will child support be?

The amount of child support awarded is dependent upon the number of children the couple has, as well as the incomes of the each of the parents.  The mathematical calculation of the amount of child support is laid out in New Hampshire’s Child Support Guidelines.

Are the Child Support Guidelines mandatory?

In cases involving child support, the parties should expect the Child Support Guidelines to be followed.  However, there are certain situations in which the parties may deviate, or not follow, the Child Support Guideline.  These deviations are applied on a case-by-case basis.  Please contact us for a consultation, where we can assist you in determining whether your case meets one of these limited circumstances.

What is alimony and who qualifies to receive alimony?

In New Hampshire, alimony is gender neutral. Any party can ask that the Court award them alimony if it has been requested before the final hearing. The issue of alimony is case-specific and should be discussed with a divorce attorney. Please contact us for a consultation, where we can assist you in determining whether alimony may be an issue in your case.

What happens to an inheritance in a divorce? Must it be split?

Generally speaking, New Hampshire is an “equitable property state.” This means that if you inherit property or another asset, such as money, while you are married that asset goes into a “pot” that can be divided by the Courts upon the dissolution of a marriage or civil union. This means that if you or your partner received an inheritance, the Courts may ultimately split that between you, depending upon what your marital estate – your debts and assets – looks like. For advice as to your own specific situation, please contact us for a consult.

The marital home is in only one of the spouses’ names.  Does this mean that the spouse whose name it is in gets all of the equity (and all of the debt)?

Generally speaking, it does not matter whose name is on the mortgage or on the deed with regards to a home that was acquired and that both spouses/partners live in.  Since New Hampshire is an equitable property state, the marital home will become a part of the assets and debts that must be split equitably between spouses or partners during a separation or divorce, regardless of whose name is on the deed or mortgage.

What factors do the Courts actually use to determine division of assets and debts when a marriage or civil union is dissolving?

There is a list of fifteen factors that judges utilize in determining a division of property.  These factors include but are not limited to the duration of the marriage, the needs and liabilities of each of the parties, the ability of each spouse to earn money and other assets in the future and tax liabilities of the division of property.  The Court will also look at other facts that it deems appropriate for purposes of division of property.

We hope that this list of FAQs is helpful as you start to explore the divorce process.  We have a great team approach to family law and welcome your questions.  Feel free to reach out today to schedule a consultation where you will leave with a plan of action.