New Hampshire offers both divorce and legal separation for couples who can no longer stay together. In either case, matters related to property division, custody and support must be decided through agreement of the parties or by a judge. Understanding which factors a court is required to consider will help eliminate some of the confusion in the New Hampshire divorce and legal separation process.
Legal Separation and Divorce
New Hampshire is one of the few states that recognizes legal separation. The separation process proceeds in the same manner as divorce, resolving issues related to support, custody and property division. However, the parties still remain legally married after separation and cannot remarry. A legal separation may be desirable for religious reasons or as a "trial run" for a couple who is not quite ready for a divorce. Further, New Hampshire law provides that a legal separation may be converted to a divorce by simply filing a motion to amend the separation decree. The filing process for both divorce and legal separation depends on whether a couple agrees on the major issues. If so, they may file a joint petition and eliminate the need for personal service. If not, service of the petition by the sheriff or certified mail must be made on the nonfiling spouse in order to proceed.
When it comes to dividing marital property in a divorce or separation, New Hampshire is an equitable distribution state. This means that property will be divided according to what is "fair" between the parties. By law, the court is required to presume that fairness means an equal distribution, but a judge is allowed to consider several factors that may support an unequal division, including the length of the marriage, age and health of the parties, and actions by either spouse during the marriage that either hurt or helped the value of marital property. The court also has authority to award alimony to a spouse. In determining whether the award should be permanent or temporary, a judge will consider the age and health of both spouses as well as each spouse's social or economic status, among other factors.
For calculating child support, New Hampshire is one of the few states that uses a flat percentage of income. First, the net income of both parents is combined, which corresponds to a percentage based on the number of children in need of support. The person ordered to pay support will then be responsible for his proportion of the combined income. For example, for parents with one child, the model indicates a support obligation of 25 percent. If the person subject to the support order contributes $75,000 to a combined net income of $100,000, the total support obligation would be $25,000. The noncustodial parent's support obligation would then be 75 percent of $25,000, or $18,750.
In making custody determinations, New Hampshire law requires that all decisions further the child's best interests. Parents are encouraged to adopt a parenting plan agreeable to both parties. The plan should set out a schedule for parent-child contact and specify how disputes will be resolved. In addition, attendance at a parenting seminar is mandatory for parents of minor children. If parties still cannot agree, the matter will be decided by a judge based on several factors, including the ability of each parent to meet the child's food, clothing and shelter needs, developmental needs of the child, and child's adjustment to school or community.