In August of 2018, the New Hampshire Legislature revised RSA 461-A, which is titled “Parental Rights and Responsibilities”. The statute is intended to provide the courts and parents with guidance as to how to best address issues relating to children. The purpose of the statute as stated in RSA 461-A:2 is to encourage parents to share in the responsibilities of raising their children and to develop their own parenting plan with minimal court involvement, with the assistance of attorneys and through the use of mediation.
In Family Division Courts, one of the first Court appearances will be for a “First Appearance”. This is a time scheduled by the Court for parents, whether involved in a divorce or parenting dispute, to appear before the court so that they can be scheduled for a two (2) hour mediation session, at a minimum, to address parenting issues. (But see the Mediation session, below).
The First Appearance is intended to allow parents to focus upon issues relating to their children relatively early in the process. The goal is for parents, with the assistance of counsel and a Court Certified Mediator, to reach an Agreed upon Parenting Plan. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement after the first mediation session, then either parent can request a temporary hearing to address any unresolved issues.
Parenting Disputes & Responsibility
In an effort to soften the effects of divorce and/or parenting disputes upon the parties and their children, the State of New Hampshire no longer uses terms such as “custody” and “visitation”. As of August 7, 2018, there is also no longer a “primary” parent or “primary” residence. The New Hampshire Legislature decided that neither parent should be given preference, even in name, in parenting plans.
Under the current rules, parents are encouraged to work together to agree upon a Parenting Plan which establishes the parents’ respective rights and responsibilities. The terms “legal custody” “physical custody” and “visitation” are now referred to as “Parenting Decision Making Responsibility”, ” Residential Parenting Time”, “Non-Residential Parenting Time” and “Routine Parenting Schedule”. The revisions to the law require that Parenting Plans include a detailed schedule.
In New Hampshire (and again in most of the fifty states) an initial parenting schedule determination is based upon the “best interest of the child” standard. This means exactly what it says, and, absent an agreement between the parents, our Courts will attempt, to the extent humanly possible, to encourage a shared parenting plan. If the Court finds that a shared parenting plan is not in the child’s best interests, they must state the reasons they have made such a decision.
The current statute indicates that its purpose is to allow parents to share in parenting responsibilities; however, it falls short of indicating that a shared parenting schedule is the main objective. As can be seen by this shift in policy, the Courts and society in general are evolving and recognizing the increasingly involved and important roles played by both partners in today’s family.
Finally, the current rules do not allow a parent to move with their child(ren) without a court order unless the new home is closer to the other parent or within the same school district or the move is to protect the parent, child, or both. Designating the child(ren)’s school district is, therefore, an important decision when creating a long-term Parenting Plan.
Whether you believe you will be able to reach an agreed upon Parenting Plan with the other parent of your child(ren) or if you believe that parenting issues will be highly disputed, the Law Office of Shaunna L. Browne, PLLC is ready to represent your interests with the highest level of professionalism, understanding and courtesy.
We strive to meet every client’s needs and will do whatever possible to ensure that a father or mother who has legitimate concerns and issues relating to their child(ren) is given the highest level of attention and representation in an effort to convince the presiding judge or marital master that they are the parent that will best meet their children’s needs. We also strive to maximize our client’s parenting time with their children and minimize the impact of divorce upon them.
Let us put our collective experience concentrating in family law to work for you and your family. Contact us today!