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New Hampshire Divorce Laws

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People marry for companionship and to fulfill their dreams of starting a family. Most U.S. states only allow the union of two individuals of the opposite sex. In New Hampshire, however, a law permitting same-sex marriage was passed in 2009. 

Every couple works hard to ensure their marital union lasts. However, marriages do not always have happy endings. Some are tested by challenges and conflicts, ending in divorce.

CDC figures reveal that the Granite State had a divorce rate of 2.6  per 1,000 people in 2021, higher than the 2.4 rate in 2020. Meanwhile, data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that the national divorce rate for 2021 was 6.9 per 1,000 women aged 15 and over. The report also showed that New Hampshire had a 4.3 divorce rate, one of the lowest in the country.

Divorce laws in New Hampshire are evolving. In 2021, the state's Supreme Court set a new precedent when it unanimously ruled to include same-sex affairs in adultery cases. The ruling allows courts to stop relying on the 2003 Blanchflower decision, which states that adultery could only count if the infidelity happened between a man and a woman when trying divorce cases.

Every individual who has undergone or is going through the divorce process is well aware of how complex it can be. It has a significant impact on one's well-being, finances, time, and relationships with others. If you want to divorce your spouse or have been issued divorce papers, this article might help you gain insight into the state's divorce laws. It also offers materials to help you navigate the judicial system.

Divorce vs. Annulment vs. Legal Separation in New Hampshire

Married couples in New Hampshire may encounter differences and conflicts that contribute to their falling out. If they wish to end their marriage because they cannot resolve their issues, there are options available for them. These are divorce, annulment, and legal separation. These filings differ in the legal standards to obtain them or the relief associated with them, which are defined below: 

  • Divorce - This option is best if spouses have irreconcilable differences that cause the irremediable breakdown of their marriage. In simpler terms, the marriage is irreparable. A divorce decree is permanent, which means divorced couples have the freedom to remarry.

  • Annulment - This option is for married individuals who want the court to dissolve or annul their marriage as if it never happened in the first place. Annulment typically happens when the marriage is fraudulent, either party is not of legal marriage age, or both parties are cousins.

  • Legal Separation - This option is for a husband or wife who wants to be separated from their spouse because of a temporary breakdown of their relationship but doesn't want to terminate their marriage due to religious beliefs or their partner's health insurance. Separated couples may live together again after they have resolved their marital conflicts.

Is New Hampshire a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?

According to New Hampshire Legal Aid, the state is technically a no-fault divorce jurisdiction. This means that you or your spouse, whoever files for divorce, isn't mandated to prove that the other party was more at fault in the breakdown of your marriage. You may cite that the divorce process was initiated because your marriage has irreparably broken down due to irreconcilable disputes.

However, you may file for a fault-based divorce if your spouse’s wrongdoing influenced your decision. The following grounds are included in New Hampshire's divorce statute.

  • Adultery.

  • Impotence.

  • Extreme cruelty.

  • Criminal conviction.

  • Desertion.

  • Habitual drunkenness.

  • Willful refusal of marital duties.

If you decide to file for a fault-based divorce, it is ideal to consult with a divorce attorney to strategize a case that will prove your spouse's misconduct.

How to File for Divorce in New Hampshire

If you have contemplated your marriage and realized it is already irreparably broken, you may initiate the divorce process. To save time and money, it is best that you equip yourself with knowledge about the state's divorce laws, particularly the step-by-step approach. This part of the article offers you pertinent information on how to go about the divorce process after establishing the grounds for divorce and fulfilling the residency requirements.

1. Prepare the Divorce Petition and the Necessary Requirements

To officially start the divorce process, you (the petitioner) must complete the individual divorce petition and attach a filled-out personal data sheet. You may find the forms that apply to your situation on the state's Judicial Branch website. The state's Court Service Center offers checklists of the things that need to be accomplished for divorce with and without minor children.

You and your spouse may also file a joint petition for divorce if you agree or disagree about the issues of your divorce. The details you include in the petition will inform the court of the matters you want addressed, such as child custody and alimony.

2. File the Divorce Paperwork

Once you have filled out and signed the required forms, you must file the notarized divorce paperwork with your county's Circuit Court Family Division. You may also file it in the New Hampshire county where your spouse currently resides. The state's family divisions are located in 10 counties. You may visit the official website of the New Hampshire Judicial Branch for contact information and addresses of the courts. 

The state has also launched an e-filing system, which allows you to file your documents electronically. You may ask the court clerk for additional information about the court's electronic filing instructions.  

When filing your divorce paperwork, prepare to pay the filing fee. For joint petitions filed, you and your spouse should ensure to have copies of the paperwork to avoid delays and additional charges.

3. Serve or Respond to the Divorce Petition

Once you have filed the necessary paperwork, the respondent will be informed that they have 10 days to collect a copy of the divorce petition in court. If they fail to comply, the court will send you the document along with instructions on how to serve the divorce papers to your spouse. Your options include hiring a sheriff's service or sending through certified mail. You will then be required to submit to the court a signed proof of service. If the address of your spouse is unknown, the court may publish the notice, upon your request, in a newspaper.

The respondent may file a response or a cross-petition, challenging the claims in the petitioner's petition. 

4. Attend the First Appearance Session</h3>

Once your individual divorce petition has been served or your joint divorce petition has been filed, the court will schedule a first appearance session. It is important to note that this step is solely for cases involving minor children. A judge or master will explain in detail the court process during the session. They will also emphasize important things to consider regarding the welfare of the minor children.

5. Complete a Parenting Education Course

A divorcing husband and wife with minor children must complete a four-hour child impact seminar unless the court rules an exemption. The program addresses the effects of divorce on your children. The seminar costs $85 per person and must be paid in advance to the seminar provider. 

The court should receive a copy of your certificate of attendance to proceed with the divorce papers. It also requires parents to register with one of the program providers before their first appearance session. Failure to attend a child impact program within 45 days after the divorce petition has been served warrants sanctions. 

6. Finalize Your New Hampshire Divorce

If your divorce is uncontested, the judge may sign the final divorce decree even without going through a hearing as long as you have fulfilled every required document. Contested divorce cases, on the other hand, may take longer to finalize as both parties will be required to attend trials to resolve their marital issues. 

In some instances, the judge puts the case on hold and orders both spouses to attend marriage counseling, especially when there is a possibility that the relationship might still be saved.

To finalize the divorce, the following forms are required to be completed or signed by the parties and submitted to the court:

Forms Required

Divorce With Minor Children

Divorce Without Minor Children

Certificate of Completion of the Child Impact Seminar

Parenting Plan (NHJB-2064-F)

Financial Affidavits Completed by Each Party (NHJB-2065-F)

Vital Statistics Form

Final Decree on Divorce (NHJB-2071-F)

Uniform Support Order (NHJB-2066-FP

Uniform Alimony Order (NHJB-3058-F) (if applicable)

Child Support Guidelines Worksheet (NHJB-2101-FP)

Agreement and Parenting Plan Order Designating School District (NHJB-2763-F) (if applicable)

Financial Affidavits Completed by Each Party (NHJB-2065-F)

Vital Statistics Form

Final Decree on Divorce (NHJB-2071-F)

Uniform Alimony Order (NHJB-3058-F) (if applicable)

How Property Is Divided in a New Hampshire Divorce

New Hampshire follows an equitable distribution principle when it comes to property division following a divorce. Any married couple in the state who is going through a divorce will need to assess and identify the value of their tangible and intangible properties. They may hire an appraiser or actuary to calculate their worth. The table below lists some examples of these types of properties.

Tangible Properties

Intangible Properties

Real Estate

Automobiles

Furniture and Appliances

Gadgets

Jewelry

Bank Accounts

Pets

Retirement Funds

Employment Benefits

Savings Plans

Pensions

Stocks

Business

The distinction between marital and separate property is also recognized in the state's divorce legislation. The first type covers assets and debts acquired, owned, or accrued by the husband and wife throughout their marriage, while the second type includes properties that the spouses received as inheritance or gifts during the marriage. The law, however, requires property division of both marital and separate assets, making it different from other jurisdictions that observe the concept of equitable division. Meanwhile, an amendment made to the divorce statute in 2019 allows judges to consider the care and well-being of pets when deciding their ownership. 

If you, your spouse, or both of you don't agree that a 50/50 division is fair, the court will consider various factors when making a decision, which may include the following: 

  • The length of your marriage.

  • You and your spouse's age, health, occupation, economic and social status, and employability.

  • Tax consequences for both parties.

  • The value of the property listed under your prenuptial agreement.

  • The fault that caused the divorce.

New Hampshire Divorce FAQs

This part of the article answers some of the frequently asked questions about New Hampshire's divorce laws. For additional information or assistance about the processes, requirements, and other legal options, you may contact a divorce lawyer in your area.

Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in New Hampshire

Here are some resources to help you navigate the legal system if you are starting a divorce or have been served with divorce papers. 

New Hampshire Legal Aid

This website assists low-income New Hampshire residents in obtaining legal services. It also offers reliable information on a variety of legal matters, such as family law and divorce, through self-help guides and resources.

603 Legal Aid

This civil legal aid provider partners with volunteer lawyers and community organizations to provide legal counsel, advocacy, and education to New Hampshire citizens experiencing financial hardship. It offers free phone consultations on non-criminal legal issues. 603 Legal Aid can be reached at 800-639-5290 or 603-224-3333 from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday.

New Hampshire Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service

The NHBA runs two lawyer referral service programs, the LRS Full Free Program and the LRS Modest Means Program, which assist state residents in finding qualified attorneys to handle their cases.

New Hampshire Legal Assistance

The NHLA provides free civil legal aid to anyone in New Hampshire who meets the government's low-income eligibility requirements. It primarily deals with issues involving domestic abuse and family law, such as divorce, protective orders, and parental rights and obligations. Its team can accompany a client to court, for example, to get a domestic abuse protective order.

New Generation

Catholic Charities NH's New Generation program provides emergency and transitional housing for pregnant and single moms, as well as their kids, who are victims of domestic abuse. It is also committed to assisting mothers in regaining their footing and establishing self-sufficiency through secure housing and employment.

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