New Hampshire Child Custody Lawyer
Understanding the State’s Child Custody Laws
The issue of where children will live, as well as who will serve as their primary custodian, is one of the most stressful aspects of any divorce or separation. As a parent, the well-being of your child is your top priority; you need to know that their physical and emotional health will be cared for, even as your family is changing.
At Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C., our New Hampshire child custody lawyers assist mothers and fathers, as well as legal guardians, with all aspects of divorce, legal separation, child custody, visitation, child support, and related matters. We understand the challenges inherent in these issues, as well as their emotional and sensitive nature. To that end, our firm provides caring support and personalized attention every step of the way.
We know that no two families are alike; what works for one family may not work for yours. Rather than employing a cookie-cutter approach, our attorneys recognize the unique factors that make up your family and work to find individualized solutions tailored to your needs, concerns, and goals.
Learn more when you call us at (603) 288-1403 or contact us online to request an appointment with our attorneys today.
How Is Custody Determined in New Hampshire?
Many people believe that states automatically favor the mother in issues of child custody, but this is simply not true. When determining how child custody will be arranged, the court weighs numerous factors but always prioritizes the “best interests of the child.” This means that the court (not the parents) decide what the child’s best interests are and acts accordingly unless the parents can come to an agreement in mediation or another form of alternative dispute resolution.
Some of the factors the court uses to award child custody include:
- The child’s existing relationship with both parents
- The ability (financial and otherwise) of both parents to care for the child’s needs
- The wishes of the child (if the appropriate/relevant)
- Connections the child has with the local community, including participation in community events and organizations, such as youth athletic leagues
- Where the child goes to school, visits the doctor, attends church, etc.
- The relationship between the parents and their willingness/ability to co-parent
- Whether there is any evidence of abuse or domestic violence
- Any financial, physical, mental, emotional, or practical factors that may hinder one parent’s ability to care for the child’s physical, emotional, mental, medical, and spiritual needs
As previously mentioned, the court will typically evaluate these and other factors and then rule on the best interests of the child. Neither parent is granted automatic favor when it comes to physical or legal custody.
Types of Child Custody
New Hampshire recognizes two main types of child custody:
- Physical Custody: Which parent will have the child live with them most or all of the time/where the child will live
- Legal Custody: Which parent is allowed to make decisions on behalf of the child regarding his or her medical care, education, religious upbringing, etc.
The court may award either sole or joint physical and/or legal custody. Sole physical and legal custody are rare, as the court typically determines that having both parents involved in his or her upbringing is in the child’s best interests. However, the court may award sole physical custody and visitation rights, along with sole legal custody. It may also award joint physical custody and sole legal custody or some other combination thereof.
When Can a Child Decide Which Parent to Live with in New Hampshire?
In some cases, the court may weigh the child’s preferences when awarding child custody. There is no set age at which the court may consider the child’s wishes in New Hampshire, as the law recognizes that age does not equal maturity. Essentially, the court can decide to factor in the child’s wishes regarding which parent he or she wants to live with as it sees fit.
If the court finds that the child displays significant maturity, it will carefully weigh the child’s wishes when considering other factors involved in deciding on child custody. If your child expresses a strong preference for living with you—or your spouse—this could be a factor in your child custody case.
When to Contact a Lawyer
When it comes to child custody arrangements, disputes, and modifications, it is always a good idea to consider working with an experienced attorney. The court will use its own factors to determine what it believes to be the “best interests of your child,” but you may disagree with this assessment. By having an attorney on your side, you can advocate for your family and seek a solution that fits your unique situation.
At Douglas, Leonard & Garvey, P.C., our New Hampshire child custody attorneys are here to provide the personalized guidance and dedicated representation you need. We truly care about our clients and work hard to develop legal strategies tailored to their specific concerns and goals. We understand that the stakes are high, which is why we do everything possible to protect your rights and the true best interests of your child.
If you would like to discuss your child custody case with a member of our family law team, please call (603) 288-1403 or contact us online using our simple submission form.
Q:We were never married but have children and are now separating. How do I establish parenting rights and child support obligations?
A:If you were not married but have children, you would begin the process by filing a parenting petition in the appropriate court. This petition will include issues such as child custody and child support. Like a petition for divorce, the petition must be served upon the other spouse. Parents can also file joint parenting petitions. The filing of a parenting petition informs the court that only issues relating to the children—parenting rights, responsibilities, and financial support—are at issue. As the parents are unmarried, neither alimony nor property division can be heard by the court.
Q:What is a parenting plan?
A:A parenting plan is a document, separate from a final stipulation or final decree of divorce, that addresses all issues regarding the children. Among other things, a parenting plan addresses the following issues: decision-making responsibility for the children and access to information regarding the children (e.g., medical or educational records), the routine schedule for the children while with each parent, parenting time during holidays and birthdays, parenting time during school vacations and summer vacation, supervised parenting time (if applicable), transportation responsibilities, relocation of the residence of the children, procedures for reviewing and modifying the parenting plan, and future dispute resolution.
Q:How does the court determine parental rights and responsibilities?
A:In determining parental rights and responsibilities, the court is guided by the best interests of the child. In determining the best interest of the children, the court will consider a variety of factors including the relationship of the child with each parent, the ability of each parent to assure that the child receives adequate care, the child’s developmental needs, the support of each parent for the child’s relationship with the other parent, the ability of the parents to communicate and cooperate with each other concerning the children, and any other factor(s) which the court considers relevant. While the court is charged with the responsibility of supporting frequent and continuing contact between each parent and the children, where such is possible and appropriate, the court is not required, in the first instance, to award the parties joint or equal parenting rights and responsibilities.
Q:My child is 13 years old. Can they decide which parent to live with?
A:Under New Hampshire law, there is no automatic age upon which a minor child can unilaterally decide where they want to live. However, if the court concludes that the minor child is of sufficient maturity to make a sound judgment, the court will give “substantial weight” to the child’s stated preference. In other words, if deemed a “mature minor,” the child’s preference becomes one of any number of factors the court will consider in issuing a parenting plan. Under these circumstances, the court will also consider whether other factors have influenced the minor child’s preference—i.e., whether a parent has pressured a child to state a particular preference or whether a parent has made promises to a child to encourage the child to state a particular preference.
Q:What is guardian ad litem?
A:If you and the other parent are unable to agree upon the terms of a parenting plan, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the best interest of the children. Based on the court’s understanding of the nature of the parenting issues in dispute, the GAL will be charged with the responsibility of investigating those issues identified by the court. A GAL’s investigation will typically include things such as interviews with both parents, meetings with the children, and the collection of information from collateral sources, such as friends and family identified by each parent, as well as from teachers, counselors, coaches, etc. Eventually, if the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the GAL will file a report with recommendations for orders with the court. Although the court will usually give considerable weight to the GAL’s recommendations, the court is not bound by the GAL’s recommendations. In other words, after hearing all the evidence during a final trial, the court can enter orders different from the GAL’s recommendations. When a GAL is appointed, the documents you receive from the court will discuss the $1,000.00 cap on the cost of the GAL’s investigation. If your case involves a number of contested parenting issues, assume that the cost of the GAL’s investigation will exceed that amount.
Q:I am the parent with primary residential responsibility for my children. Can I move out of state?
A:These are very difficult cases, and the outcome will depend on the facts of each case. If the other parent disputes the proposed relocation of the children, the relocating parent must show that the proposed relocation is for a “legitimate purpose.” A “legitimate purpose” is one that cannot be accomplished if the relocating parent remains in New Hampshire. If the relocating parent demonstrates that a legitimate purpose exists, then the opposing parent must demonstrate why it is not in the children’s best interest to relocate. Some of the factors that the court will consider in determining whether the proposed relocation is in the children’s best interest include the prospective advantages of the move, whether the relocation is motivated by the desire to frustrate the other parent’s parenting rights, whether the relocating parent will comply with new parenting orders, whether there is a realistic opportunity for parenting time which will preserve the other parent’s relationship with the child, the negative impact from continued hostility between the parents, and the effect that the move may have on any extended family relationships. Unfortunately, relocation cases are not good candidates for mediation because one parent must either agree to give up the desire to relocate with the children or the other parent must allow the children to move. Under the circumstances, there is not much middle ground. As a result, these cases are often litigated and can take quite a long time to come to final resolution.
Q:How will the court establish child support?
A:In the first instance, the court will utilize the child support guidelines worksheet to establish child support. Child support is calculated using each party’s monthly gross income after certain limited deductions are applied. Special circumstances can exist which would compel the court to deviate from the application of the child support guidelines. Special circumstances include things such as the child’s ongoing extraordinary medical, dental, or educational expenses; the significantly high or low income of the obligor and obliged; and the expenses incurred by the obligor in exercising his/her parenting time. Joint or shared parenting time does not automatically mean that one parent will not pay child support. However, joint or shared parenting time is a factor which the court may consider in arriving at an appropriate child support order.
Q:How can child support be modified?
A:Child support may be modified three years after the entry of the last order of support. Otherwise, child support can be modified prior to the expiration of three years after the entry of the last order only if a substantial change in circumstances has occurred. Substantial changes of circumstance would include things such as the loss of a job, a change in parenting rights, etc. Any agreement between parties to modify child support (either upward or downward) should be in writing and filed with the court; otherwise, it may not be enforceable by the court in the event of a future dispute.
Q:Can I be ordered to pay my child’s college education expenses?
A:No. The courts no longer have authority to order either party to contribute toward a child’s college education.
Q:What is combined adjusted monthly gross income for child support?
A:The payor and payee’s actual combined adjusted monthly gross income (from Line 6, Column 3, of the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet), is used to determine which line of the table (i.e., which 10-dollar range) to use to find the appropriate guideline child support amount. For example, if the amount entered on Line 6, Column 3, of the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet is $2,726.00, the line on the table that is used to determine the guideline amount is the line listing the 10-dollar range $2,720.00 – $2,729.00, as $2,726.00 falls within that range.