Ending a relationship is never an easy thing, regardless if the couple was married or not. As if trying to untie their lives together isn’t an unhappy process on its own, this frustrating and emotional time is only magnified when the couple shares children. Child custody issues are some of the hardest for the New Hampshire court system to deal with, given the high emotions and pain that both parents and the child or children involved often feel. When hearing these types of cases, the family court system always does what it feels is in the best interests of the child involved in the matter.
Best Interests of the Child Standard in New Hampshire
When a couple comes to court for help with a decision on a parenting arrangement, the judge bases his or her final decision on what is in the best interests of the child in question. While every case is assessed differently, state law dictates that the judge begin the evaluation under the assumption that the child benefits from having both parents involved in his or her life in a positive and consistent manner. Judges have the liberty to consider any factors they find to be relevant to custody but are also guided by some factors that are outlined by state law.
The factors that judges must consider under New Hampshire state law fall into the following categories:
1) Health and Safety
A judge hearing a child custody case needs to look at any factors that relate to the child’s physical well-being. This includes each parent’s willingness and ability to provide the child with basic needs including clothing, food and shelter. This category also includes being able to provide for the child’s medical care. In this regard, the parents’ financial situations are not compared, and no parent has a greater amount of influence if one is more financially stable. Should one of the parents have a history of domestic violence, either toward the child or toward the other parent, it is possible for the judge to order that parent to have supervised visitation.
2) Developmental and Emotional Needs
The developmental and emotional needs of the child are also important deciding factors when it comes to custody cases. The court assesses the emotional bonds between the child and both parents as well as the parents’ current and future ability to provide and support the child’s developmental and emotional needs. In these cases, the judge will not base his or her decision on the sex of either parent or the sex of the child.
The New Hampshire court system tends to favor arrangements that allow the child to maintain current relationships with significant people in his or her life, which could include siblings, grandparents, or other individuals who play significant roles. Additionally, the court favors arrangements that work to minimize the disruption the child experiences surrounding community activities or schooling. New Hampshire state law does allow the judge to award visitation to other members of the child’s family, including grandparents.
3) Communication Skills and Co-Parenting
The state of New Hampshire puts a very strong emphasis on the parents’ ability to foster a loving and positive relationship between the child and the other parent. Unless the court sees that there is a valid reason for the child to not have contact with one of the parents, the law requires that both parents maintain and encourage a positive relationship for the child as well as promote consistent contact between the child and the other parent. When a joint custody option is on the table, the judge evaluates the parents’ ability to communicate with one another as well as their willingness to cooperate and uphold the custody agreement that is arranged.
Child Custody Options in New Hampshire
When it comes to the types of child custody arrangements in New Hampshire, the subject is broken down into two parts – legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the parents’ right and responsibility to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing including medical care, education and social environment. Physical custody refers to whom the child is residing with and which parent is tasked with being the child’s primary caregiver.
The state of New Hampshire does prefer to award joint legal custody whenever possible, as long as there is no evidence of domestic violence or sexual abuse from either parent. Physical custody, or the amount of time the child spends with each parent, is decided by a number of factors. While a judge may grant joint legal custody, it does not mean he or she will also award joint physical custody – it is possible for one parent to only receive visitation.
Information on Parenting Plans
Family court judges in the state of New Hampshire much prefer when parents are able to create a parenting plan on their own. This plan outlines each parent’s responsibilities for raising the child and how they plan to work together to uphold the child’s well-being. Should there be no special circumstances, such as a history of domestic abuse, the court actually requires parents to attempt their own parenting plan as well as attend mediation when they are unable to create a plan on their own.
The more specific parents make their parenting plan, the easier it is for the judge and the court system to enforce. Some areas that a parenting plan should address include:
- Division of decision making
- Legal residence each parent has/will take
- Conditions or restrictions should a parent want to change addresses
- Residential schedule for the child including any recognized holidays, school breaks, special occasions, and vacations
- Manner in which the child is transported between homes
- Method for reviewing the parenting plan should either parent or the child ask for it to be reviewed
- Indication of if the parenting plan should be reviewed when the child hits a certain age
- Consequences either parent would face should they not follow the parenting plan
- Method for resolving future disputes
Custody and Relocation in New Hampshire
One area that should be outlined in the parenting plan is relocation, since this often becomes an issue when one parent is the primary custodian and the other parent only has visitation. Should the primary custodian parent want to relocate, he or she needs to use the proper legal channels for approval, depending on what is outlined in the parenting plan. Often times, the burden of proof lies with the parent wanting to move to prove why the relocation is needed and in what ways it benefits the child.