Divorce Law in MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE

What is a divorce?

A divorce is an absolute dissolution of your marriage obtained in a court of law. At the conclusion of a divorce you are free to marry again. In a divorce, provisions are made either by agreement or order for distribution of your property as well as for your children, who they will live with, when they will see the other parent, whether child support will be paid and how much, etc. If in the divorce, you and your spouse are able to a free on everything then your agreement will be memorialized on paper and is usually called a Permanent Stipulation. If you can agree on everything you will have what is called an uncontested final hearing and your divorce will be effective the same day. If you cannot agree then the court must decide those areas that you and your spouse cannot agree on. The court does this by applying statutory and case law standards to the issues you cannot agree on. This usually requires the court to conduct an evidentiary hearing where you and your spouse and others take the witness stand and give testimony on the issues you cannot agree on. In contested cases your divorce is generally effective thirty days after the judge or marital master issues their written decision.

How is legal separation different from a divorce?

A legal separation follows the same process as a divorce except at the end of the process you have what is called a limited dissolution of your marriage and you are not free to remarry at the conclusion. Often people get legal separations for religious reasons or due to financial reasons. In a legal separation, provisions are made either by agreement or order for distribution of your property as well as for your children, who they will live with, when they will see the other parent, whether child support will be paid and how much, etc. If in the legal separation process, you and your spouse are able to agree on everything then your agreement will be memorialized on paper and is usually called a Permanent Stipulation. If you can agree on everything you will have what is called an uncontested final hearing and your legal separation will be effective the same day. If you cannot agree then the court must decide those areas that you and your spouse cannot agree on. This usually requires the court to conduct an evidentiary hearing where you and your spouse and others take the witness stand and give testimony on the issues you cannot agree on. In contested cases your legal separation is generally effective thirty days after the judge or marital master issues their written decision.
 

Isn't New Hampshire a "no fault" divorce state?

In New Hampshire you can obtain a divorce either by no fault - irreconcilable differences or by fault. In an irreconcilable differences divorce you are saying to the court that you and your spouse no longer get along well enough to be married. You often do not have to give an in depth explanation of what the irreconcilable differences were. In New Hampshire there are ____ Fault grounds for seeking a divorce. A fault ground divorce is granted to the innocent spouse and you must prove to the court that the fault occurred and that it was the cause of the break down of your marriage. You cannot agree to a fault divorce in New Hampshire. In making a finding fault the court may make an unequal property settlement in favor of the innocent spouse. The downside of pursuing a divorce on the basis of fault is the cost associated with seeing the matter through until its conclusion.
 
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My spouse and I agree to a divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences how come my case is still contested?

Just because you and your spouse agree that you can be granted a divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences does not mean that your divorce is fully uncontested. For a divorce to be uncontested you must agree on everything, the grounds, property settlements, custodial arrangements for your children, support, alimony. A divorce is contested when the parties cannot agree on any one issue or every issue.

How is a divorce started?

A divorce is started by filing a petition in the Superior Court or Family Division Court of the county in which either you or your spouse reside. The petition tells the court who you are, who your spouse is, whether you have children, property, debts and why you want the divorce. The petition will often ask the court to schedule a temporary hearing to decide certain issues on a temporary basis such as who lives in the house, who the children live with, who pays the bills etc. The filing fee for a divorce is currently $152.00. If you have children you will also be required to attend a Child Impact Seminar which discusses the impact of divorce on children and provides information on things to do and not to do and how not to involve your children in your dispute. The cost of the Child Impact Seminar is currently $75.00 and is paid directly to the seminar provider. Once you have completed the seminar the provider files a certificate of completion with the court. The court will not allow you to get divorced if you have children until you have attended the Child Impact Seminar.

How long will it take me to get a divorce?

The answer to this question is it depends. Even with a fully uncontested matter it can sometimes take up to six months before a divorce is final. If the matter is contested in any way it can take a year and sometimes longer depending upon the issues. There are many people that file for divorce each year as well as many people that need to revisit their divorces because they need to make modifications to a portion of their decree. The clerks and staff of the courts realize how import your case is to you and they try very hard to schedule every case that comes to the court in as timely as fashion as they can. There is however only so much court time available and this coupled with budgeted cuts and staff shortages has had an impact on how quickly issues get scheduled for a hearing.

What is custody and how does the court decide who my children live with when I get a divorce?

As with any issue in your divorce if you and your spouse can agree the court will generally approve your agreement. If you cannot agree on who should have decision making power over your children or who they will live with when you get a divorce, the court will have to decide these issues for you. The initial standard for custodial issues is what is in the best interest of the child.

There are two types of custody to be decided, legal and physical. Legal custody is often referred to as decision making, what school the child will attend, what religion the child will practice if any, the right to sign permission for medical treatment, etc. In New Hampshire the presumption is to grant parents joint legal custody, the idea being that just because you are divorced does not mean you should not continue to participate in your child' life.

Physical custody is the type of custody that there are more disagreements on in divorces. Physical custody is who the children will spend a majority of their time with. Often one parent is granted primary physical custody and the other parent is granted residual physical custody or visitation. Again if you and your spouse can agree all the better for you and your children if you cannot the court will decide. Keep in mind that a custodial schedule that works well when your children are a certain age will not work well when they reach another age. It is important to continue to work with your ex-spouse to make your children's lives post divorce as worry free as possible.

What is a Guardian ad litem?

When the parties to a divorce cannot agree on legal or physical custody or visitation or what is in the best interests of the children he court will appoint a Guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the interests of the children. The GAL is often an attorney but not always appointed by the court and told to conduct an investigation into the issues of the case as they pertain to the children. The GAL interviews the parents, others and sometimes meets with the child and makes a written recommendation to the court based upon their investigation as to what would be in the best interests of the child. The court will give weight to the GAL's recommendations but the GAL is not the one who has final say if the parties still cannot agree once the GAL has conducted their investigation and made their recommendations. When the court appoints the GAL they also must make an order as to who shall pay the GAL. Usually the parents are responsible for the fees of the GAL.

Does the Court always make orders for child support?

Generally there is always an order for child support. Child support is calculated by applying a formula to both parents' incomes. Certain credits are given to whoever pays work related child care expenses and health insurance premiums for the children. While the formula is a little more complicated, a quick rule of thumb is that for one child the parent that pays child support will pay 25% of their net income as child support, for two children it is 33%, for three children it is 40% and for four or more it is 45%. Child support is to continue for each child until they turn eighteen or graduate from high school, whichever occurs last. Child support can also be reviewed every three years or upon a significant change in circumstances. Child support is also paid by way of wage assignment which means that the paying parents employer takes the child support payment out of their check each pay period and make sure it gets to the other parent. Some child support payments are made by direct deposit or electronic transfer.

In shared physical custody arrangements there often is by agreement no child support paid. Usually the parents agree to share all expenses equally for the children. In some shared physical custody arrangements child support is still paid by one parent to the other, often this is because the parents have different incomes and one parent needs the money to assure that the children are cared for in a similar fashion in both households.

What is shared physical custody?

There is no formal definition of shared physical custody in New Hampshire and often is it what the parties have agreed to. Some spell out the arrangements so that the children spend fifty percent of their time with each parent. Some parents alternate the weeks, some parents split the week and some use a rotating every other weekend schedule with the weekend starting earlier in the week and continuing into the beginning of the following week. Any shared custody arrangement must first and foremost work for the benefit of the children.

What will my divorce cost?

Again the answer depends. Keep in mind that the more you and your spouse can agree to generally the more inexpensive a divorce can be. Cost also depends upon when you reach your agreements. If you agree at the outset then a divorce could be inexpensive. If you agree only after a long drawn out battle then it will be very expensive. The less you agree and the more drawn out your divorce is the more expensive it will be for both of you. Most attorneys charge an hourly rate for their time and most require payment of a retainer (deposit) and signing of a fee agreement before beginning work on a case. Cases involving substantial assets or custody battles can cost thousands of dollars.

Can my spouse and I use the same lawyer?

No. Lawyers cannot represent both parties in a divorce and it would be unethical to do so.

Do I really need a lawyer to get a divorce?

You can file for divorce in New Hampshire without using an attorney and the forms you need are available at the courthouse. However, lawyers understand that your divorce involves complex legal and emotional issues and that your rights, responsibilities, assets and your children are at stake. A lawyer has the education and training to handle your case and to make sure it is handled properly the first time. A divorce is a stressful and emotional process and many individuals find they do not want to deal with all the paperwork and forms necessary to complete a divorce.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this website is intended to be for informational purposes only. It is not intended as specific legal advice. Every case is different and there is no warranty that this information is accurate or current. Because every case is unique you are urged to contact an attorney to discuss the aspects of your case and to receive advice specific to your matter.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your divorce case.