New Hampshire law encourages parents to work out custody arrangements themselves without bringing the issue to court. If they cannot come to an agreement, courts make custody decisions based on what is in the "best interest" of the child. Typically, the courts favor joint custody.
What Is a Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan is a detailed, written agreement that sets out how divorcing parents will share legal and physical custody of their children. In New Hampshire, parents must submit a parenting plan to the court before their divorce is approved. If parents cannot agree on a plan, the court may require mediation (a dispute resolution process). If mediation is also unsuccessful, the court will assign custody.
What Does the Court Consider in Assigning Custody?
New Hampshire courts balance a series of factors when determining the best interest of a child. These factors include:
- The parents’ willingness and ability to care for the child,
- The emotional bond between the parents and child,
- The child’s need for stability,
- The importance of sibling relationships,
- The child’s emotional and developmental needs,
- Evidence of child abuse or spousal abuse,
- The child’s reasonable preference (if age appropriate), and
- Any other relevant factors.
In a custody dispute, a guardian ad litem may be assigned to advocate for the child and help assess his or her best interests. Parents are also required to attend a four-hour child impact seminar, focusing on the challenges of parenting after a divorce.
What Happens When the Court Has Made a Decision?
Once the parenting plan and divorce order are approved, they are filed with the court clerk. Both parents are then bound by the approved custody order and the court must approve any modification of the plan.