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Family law involves divorce, alimony, child custody, child support, visitation, paternity, guardianship, adoption, and restraining orders. The following is a general overview of some of these topics in New Hampshire and are in no way a substitute for legal advice.
Divorce is the process of dissolving a marriage and distributing the marital property, or debt, between the parties. In a no-fault, irreconcilable differences divorce; the court can order a divorce over the objection of the other party. The most common type of divorce is based on irreconcilable differences, but divorce can also be found on the fault of one of the parties. If fault is alleged, such as adultery, abuse etc, then the charges must be proven for the divorce to be granted. Accordingly, most divorces are filed as no-fault divorces. In a long-term marriage, the courts generally try to award a 50/50 split of the marital property. The parties will need to convince the court if a 50/50 distribution would not be equitable or fair. Fault on the part of either party can be grounds for an unequal property distribution. The process can involve many court appearances before reaching a trial, and may take in excess of a year to conclude.
New Hampshire Courts sometimes order alimony payments (spousal support) to be paid by one spouse to the other to help support the recipient for a period of time. Alimony is meant to be rehabilitative and will only last for a limited period of time. Such an order would be based on one spouse’s ability to pay and the other spouse’s need for the alimony.
If child custody is being disputed, either one of the parents may file a Parenting Petition with the court for custody of a child. If the parties cannot agree about who should have primary residential responsibilities, the court will grant physical custody either solely to one of the parents or jointly to both of the parents. The standard for granting custody is the “best interest of the child.”
The law requires parents to create a “parenting plan” which must be filed and approved by the court. If the parents cannot agree on a plan, the court is authorized to draw up a parenting plan for the family.
The custodial parent is normally entitled to child support from the other party. New Hampshire follows “child support guidelines,” for determining the amount of child support to be paid by the non-custodial parent. Child support is calculated by a mathematical formula that is roughly 25% of the paying parents income for one child, and 33% for two children and upwards. Child support is payable until the child reaches the age of 18, graduated from high school or becomes emancipated, which means moving away from either parents home and is self-supporting.
This type of case is used to determine who the natural, biological parents are of a child. Parents who are not married can file for a determination of paternity of a child. The court can order the parents to submit to DNA testing and will make a finding of paternity based on proper test results.
Guardians Ad Litem (GAL)
Guardians are appointed when parents cannot agree to a custody and visitation arrangement for children. Typically the judge or marital master issues an order appointing a particular GAL to investigate specific issues that are in dispute. The court order will designate how much each party is required to pay the GAL unless the parties are indigent.
The GAL conducts an investigation, which may include interviewing the parents, the children and other persons who may have information relevant to the issues involved. In most cases the GAL prepares a written report which includes a recommended resolution of custody and visitation issues that, in the GAL’s estimation, is in the best interest of the children. The GAL may also be a witness at the custody hearing.
The judge or marital master makes the final determination after considering the GAL’s recommendation along with all of the other evidence presented in the case. However, the GAL’s recommendations are not binding on the court and the court may accept some, all, or none of the GAL’s recommendations.
A domestic violence restraining order is available on an emergency basis if you believe that a spouse, significant other, or person who you were romantically involved with has threatened you or is otherwise a credible threat to your safety. Orders can be obtained on an emergency basis by petitioning either a District Court or Superior Court near your home.