What We Cover In This Article
Divorce Laws | Residency Requirements | Grounds for Divorce | Divorce Attorney | Filing for Divorce | Online Divorce | How Long? | Divorce Costs | Custody | Child Support | Alimony | Division of Asset | Common-Law Marriage | Alternatives
It’s comparatively easy to get a divorce in New Hampshire versus ending your marriage in some other states, but there are a few things to be aware of that could affect your separation.
In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn more about New Hampshire’s requirements, the grounds for divorce, whether attorneys make sense, the filing process, and more.
Types of Divorce Laws in New Hampshire
While some people think of divorce in New Hampshire as nothing more than separating from a partner, the state does not consider it a subjective matter. Most of the relevant laws are laid out in RSA 458 and its sub-sections, as well as RSA 459 and 461-A (also linked), to establish the specific legal framework.
Like most states, New Hampshire allows both contested and uncontested divorces. As the names imply, these provide frameworks for divorce depending on whether a couple is in agreement or not.
A contested divorce is a situation where the spouses disagree on the separation's details. This is an important legal distinction: divorces are contested even if the disagreement is on a comparatively small or trivial matter, such as who gets a specific piece of jewelry or a set of kitchen tools.
As a general rule, courts do not like managing contested divorces over matters like that and frequently suggest that people try to find a way to make it an uncontested divorce instead.
Contested divorces can address a wide range of issues, possibly including whether to have a divorce at all. Some matters are much more likely to trigger a contested divorce, including child custody arrangements and division of assets like real estate. Contested divorces take longer to resolve than uncontested divorces.
In an average case, a contested divorce will start by filling out and delivering paperwork as necessary. After that, people will usually have to respond to petitions and directions from the court, often work with a lawyer, participate in a discovery process, attend hearings either virtually or at a courthouse, and negotiate settlement proposals.
The goal of this process is to settle the entire thing out of court, turning things back into an uncontested situation. If it still fails, the judge will decide any remaining issues.
It is possible to appeal the results of a contested divorce in New Hampshire, but this is extremely difficult. New Hampshire only has one court of appeals in the state, which is the New Hampshire Supreme Court. This court is not obligated to accept appeals on family law matters, and it usually doesn’t unless you can demonstrate a genuine issue of law in the case.
In other words, divorce cases are typically final, and you probably won’t get a successful appeal just because you don’t like the case's results.
Family law courts have a lot of discretion in applying the law, and the risk of getting a bad result is one of the reasons they strongly encourage you to negotiate things with terms you can accept.
Pros & Cons
A settlement proposal is one side’s suggestion for resolving lingering issues and transforming a contested separation into an uncontested one. While people can write these on their own, most people rely on attorneys to draft the proposal and make sure it will be legally binding if accepted. Attorneys can also help determine if an offer is fair and equitable.
Remember that while attorneys can make recommendations for these proposals, only the spouses in the relationship can decide whether to accept them.
Many people go through several rounds of proposals, starting with each side presenting a proposal entirely favorable to them. It’s rare for people to accept this, but it does show what each side finds most important. From there, each side can look for areas they’re close to agreement on and figure those out, then move on to resolving contentious issues.
Keep in mind that all agreements must conform to New Hampshire’s laws, and judges have some discretion to intervene if they think anything is too biased or problematic. This is one of the many reasons why you should strive for compromise in a settlement proposal rather than trying to get everything you want.
The actual duration of settlement negotiations varies. Some people can solve this within a few days, but complex negotiations over marital property can take weeks or even months. Judges normally let negotiations continue as long as people continue making progress, but they might set a deadline for external reasons (like a child graduating from school).
Many couples find some level of agreement during settlement negotiations, but this process often fails because at least one side refuses to compromise on a particular matter. Failure to agree is when things ultimately move on to the court system.
Divorce trials function more like criminal trials than many other cases, although it (usually) doesn’t end with someone going to jail.
Instead, trials begin with a discovery process, where each side can legally demand relevant records and information. Discovery is a broad power, and almost everything relevant to the divorce is subject to it aside from confidential discussions with lawyers.
Discovery helps ensure that both sides have the best information to make a case when asking a judge to rule a certain way. Remember that trials focus on matters of dispute, so courts rarely address anything the spouses agree on aside from confirming how each side feels about those.
Divorce trials may involve witnesses or expert testimony. When this happens, the other team can cross-examine them and present other evidence as relevant. Afterward, each team can present closing arguments.
You don’t strictly need a lawyer if you’re going to a divorce trial in New Hampshire, but it’s usually wise to at least consult with one. Otherwise, you may find that errors in the process can lead to unfavorable judgments.
Most courts in New Hampshire do not make immediate rulings after a divorce trial unless the matters are short, simple, and clear. Realistically, it can take up to several months to get a ruling. Courts normally provide an estimated timeframe at the close of the trial, taking into account their current schedule and other cases.
Uncontested divorces are where spouses agree on the terms of separation. This type of divorce is usually faster, easier, and cheaper than contested divorces and typically resolve within 1-3 months. Most of the delay is waiting for the court to process the case rather than any particular problems.
Most uncontested divorces in New Hampshire go through without issue, but there are a few times when a judge might intervene. Addressing this can mean anything from talking with the parties for a few minutes to going back into settlement negotiations or mediation. Three particular things can slow down an uncontested divorce.
The first potential problem is a procedural issue. This is when something doesn’t work the way it should, such as parties failing to submit the right paperwork. Part of an attorney’s job is making sure this doesn’t happen, so you generally don’t need to worry about this if you’re working with a professional.
The second possible problem in an uncontested divorce is a lack of clarity in the separation agreement. As a general rule, courts want people to be specific in the terms and conditions of the separation. For example, instead of saying that each parent gets custody of a child for half the week, the agreement should specify which half.
In most cases, lack of clarity in a divorce agreement is something that can be resolved immediately. Both sides already agree with the terms in an uncontested divorce, so this is just a matter of clearly writing down what the sides have agreed to and moving on from there.
In rare cases, larger clarifications could delay the process as the judge needs more time to consider the proposal. This isn’t a common problem, but it does show up occasionally.
The final thing that can throw a wrench into the works is the best interests of the child. New Hampshire law requires that parenting plans (and general divorce arrangements) be made to support children as much as possible. The exact terms are in Title XLIII, Chapter 461-A:6, which discusses the specific things courts must consider.
The interests of children can and do take priority over other parental responsibilities and divorce agreements. Notably, New Hampshire’s law also states as official policy that children should have contact with both parents unless there’s a convincing reason to do otherwise, so the courts favor divorces that allow for this.
Any denial of an uncontested divorce is rare outside of these three cases. Judges have a lot of discretion when determining if a divorce is acceptable, but rarely exercise this power unless they have a convincing reason to.
Pros & Cons
If you qualify for an uncontested divorce, using an online divorce service is a great way to save a lot of money. Keep in mind in New Hampshire, divorce can cost over $10,000 in fees if you file for divorce with an attorney.
We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.
Mediation is where spouses meet to discuss aspects of the divorce and try to negotiate past any differences. This isn’t the same thing as more formal settlement negotiations. Also, mediation isn’t necessarily about making things equal, just acceptable to both parties.
Courts strongly prefer uncontested divorces, so they may suggest or even insist that couples attend mediation and try to resolve any disputes before proceeding towards a trial.
Most mediation cases proceed along similar lines. After deciding to do it, participants must agree on a mediator and how to run the sessions. Divorces are often emotionally-intense situations, so mediation services often allow using video calls and teleconferencing instead of in-person meetings.
When the first session starts, the mediator generally explains the outline of the day to all participants, resolves any lingering issues like payments, and explains who is allowed to explain things and when. The objective here is to ensure that participants can detail their thoughts, feelings, and preferences.
The first session may just be an introduction, but once things start in earnest, participants usually present information relevant to topics. People often use mediation to address topics like splitting real estate, determining spousal support, and creating parenting plans, so mediators may ask for things like a child’s schedule or a parent’s bank statements.
Most people don’t resolve differences right away, but mediators can explain how judges are likely to rule on specific matters if things become contested and the case goes to trial. This can serve as an encouragement to negotiate an acceptable deal.
Spouses in mediation usually have a chance to state what outcomes they’re hoping for and why they want things to go that way. For example, a father may say that he wants residential responsibility during the week because their child likes engineering, and he lives close to a school that focuses on that.
Once each side has a chance to present their preferences and concerns, the next step is comparing them to look for areas of common ground. Many couples have a lot of similarities in their goals, and by determining them first, participants can see visible progress from the discussions.
After finding common ground, mediation moves on to resolving areas of differences. Successful mediation usually involves each side giving up some of what they want. This is rarely an ideal solution for either party, but since the purpose of mediation is finding an acceptable arrangement, the final result is usually tolerable by each side.
Once mediation is over, the mediator will write down the final settlement agreement. Most do this together with a lawyer, and then each party has an opportunity to review it with their attorney to ensure it’s correct.
Signing a mediation agreement does not finalize a divorce, nor does it have any legal weight. Only a final order from a court can put the agreement into force, and that can take anywhere from weeks to months after submitting it. Then, and only then, does the agreement come into play.
Residency Requirements in New Hampshire
New Hampshire has looser residency requirements than some other states. This makes it somewhat easier to get a divorce in certain circumstances but more difficult in others. The guidelines for jurisdiction are explained in Section 458:5, which lists the three main criteria for residency.
The first option is both parties living within the state. There is no residency duration required here, only that both spouses live within the state borders. This means a couple can separate the day after moving into the state. That would be unusual, but it’s allowable under state law.
The section option is when the spouse filing the divorce petition lives within the state and the other spouse is served with the paperwork while in the state. The other spouse doesn’t have to live in the state for this to happen, but they must be inside it. A spouse seeking to evade divorce can stop this by not traveling to New Hampshire.
The final option for a divorce in New Hampshire is the only one with a genuine residency requirement beyond living in the state. A spouse can seek a divorce if they’ve lived in New Hampshire for one full year before asking for a divorce, regardless of where their partner lives. This means that a spouse cannot evade divorce forever just by staying out of the state.
There is some flexibility in these requirements. For example, if a spouse is out-of-state but files an acknowledgment with the court, they’ll generally waive the residency requirement for the final option. This is another of the many reasons why it helps for couples to be in agreement about a divorce, rather than contesting it.
Outside of these limits, there are no particular residency requirements for getting a divorce while you’re in New Hampshire. Many states have longer residency requirements even if both spouses live in-state, so New Hampshire is a comparatively divorce-friendly location.
Grounds for Divorce in New Hampshire
New Hampshire is both a no-fault state and an at-fault state. This means you do not need to give a reason for the divorce as long as you cite irreconcilable differences, but there are a few grounds that you can use when applying. These are more relevant in contested divorces where one partner wants to separate while the other doesn’t.
Section 458:7 lists the primary grounds for an at-fault divorce in New Hampshire. These include:
- Abandonment: If a party refuses to live together with their spouse for at least two years without reasonable cause or consent, divorce is permissible.
- Absence: If one party has been entirely missing for two years, the remaining spouse can get a divorce in New Hampshire. The demonstrable lack of contact usually results in separation terms favorable to the spouse who’s still accounted for.
- Adultery: Any incident of adultery is grounds for divorce in New Hampshire.
- Alcoholism: Either party being a habitual alcoholic for two years is a reason for divorce in New Hampshire.
- Criminal Acts: Specifically, any criminal acts with a sentence of more than one year in prison, and actual imprisonment for the same, qualify for a divorce.
- Extreme Cruelty: Any incidence of this is immediate grounds for divorce. Section 458:7 doesn’t specifically define this, but courts usually interpret it as any form of physical or emotional abuse.
- Impotency: A spouse can file for divorce if their partner cannot have children. Note that 458:7 does not impose a time limit on when this information is revealed, so just being impotent is often enough to qualify.
- Injury: Any act that endangers health or reason can qualify for divorce in New Hampshire. This is different from extreme cruelty and usually refers to more long-term harm, such as the risk of developing a disease instead of a punch to the face.
- Religious Decrees: If a partner joins a religion that declares their marriage against its tenets and the spouses stay separate for at least six months, divorce is allowable.
There is some flexibility in these definitions. For example, deployed military personnel may be away from home for longer than two years. This is not abandonment, though, because military deployment is considered an acceptable reason for absence. Section 458:E gives special protections to military members, limiting options for divorce there.
Using a New Hampshire Divorce Attorney
The law does not require that you use an attorney when getting a divorce in New Hampshire, but many people find it easier to work with an attorney even when getting an uncontested divorce. As discussed above, procedural issues can stop a divorce petition from going through, and part of a lawyer’s job is making sure that doesn’t happen.
Attorneys are more helpful in contested cases, where disagreements over things like distribution of assets and having the residential rights for children can lead to tense, emotion-laden discussions. Aside from providing a neutral point of reference, attorneys give you someone to talk to and rely on during a complex point in your life.
What Makes a Good Divorce Attorney?
A great divorce attorney focuses on family law. New Hampshire has a lower divorce rate than many other states, so most lawyers don’t specialize exclusively in divorce proceedings. However, you want to get someone who has experience in this field and knows how to navigate the state’s procedures and regulations.
Negotiation skill is also essential when picking your attorney. Practically any lawyer can handle managing and submitting paperwork, but negotiating things like spousal support is where an attorney can shine. Remember that the goal isn’t to “win” these discussions, though.
Everyone wants to get an advantage in negotiations, but as we’ll discuss in more detail below, things like the best interests of children can take priority over deals you negotiate.
The first goal of an attorney’s negotiations is finding a deal acceptable to the court, the second goal is finding something both sides can agree on, and then the focus is on getting terms as favorable towards you as possible.
For example, if you are divorcing a narcissist, they will know how to deal with them so that you won't be taken advantage of them anymore.
How to Find a Good Divorce Attorney
There are many ways to find a great divorce attorney. Many people ask for recommendations from friends or family. Other people search through online databases or request a referral from an attorney who works in a different area. Don’t feel like you need to stick with the first lawyer you contact. It’s okay to shop around and find someone who fits your personal needs and style.
Interview Questions for Divorce Attorneys
Here are some questions you can ask an attorney to figure out if they’re a good match for you.
What areas of law do you specialize in?
The ideal divorce attorney focuses on family law in New Hampshire, which is the broader category that divorce falls under. A lawyer who focuses entirely on divorces is even better, but most attorneys don’t specialize quite that much. Remember that attorneys who do too many things may not have as much experience with what you need.
What geographic areas do you work in?
It’s vital to ensure that your lawyer’s work area covers the court you expect to file paperwork at. New Hampshire is a relatively small state, so some lawyers will serve the entire region while others limit themselves to specific cities or counties.
How many divorce cases have you worked on?
More is always better. An experienced lawyer may have anywhere from dozens to hundreds of divorce cases under their belt.
Do you have any additional licenses or qualifications?
Many lawyers pursue extra accreditation from organizations to showcase their abilities. Make sure to research anything they mention so you can see if it’s a genuinely valuable award or just a fancy title that anyone can buy.
How do you expect to get paid?
Attorneys can offer several payment methods, and some change their models depending on the services you need.
If you and your partner agree on the terms of the divorce and just need someone to help with the paperwork, an attorney may offer a flat fee for the process. You can’t ask them for any help beyond the contract unless you pay more, but this can help keep your costs low during the proceedings. Remember that most flat rates don’t include charges like the court’s fees.
Some lawyers do not offer flat rates for their services, which is normal. It’s not a sign of any particular problem if they only charge by the hour.
If you’re not paying a flat fee, expect the lawyer working on your case to ask for a retainer. If you’re not familiar with the process, a retainer is essentially prepayment for work that a lawyer can draw from as they complete their work. If they don’t use all of it, they must return any extra to you.
In a typical divorce case, lawyers will ask for several retainers throughout the process as they finish each one while working for you. An average retainer covers about ten hours of work, but that’s not an industry standard and may vary depending on who you talk with. Retainers can be much more substantial if you expect to use a lot of your attorney’s time.
What types of divorce services do you provide?
You don’t always need to hire a lawyer full-time to obtain help with your divorce. Many lawyers offer consultations and review services, which are much more affordable.
How will you communicate with me?
It can be hard to drive down to a lawyer’s office every time they have a question. Many lawyers prefer phone calls, email, or texting for specific subjects. It’s always best when a lawyer uses ways of communicating that you enjoy.
What is the most likely result for my case?
A lawyer cannot guarantee a result, especially in a contested divorce, because they do not control the process. However, an experienced attorney can look at your situation and give you a realistic assessment of how things are likely to end up.
Is the Initial Consultation Free?
While free consultations are not required, almost all attorneys offering services to the public will give you a consultation at no charge. This is primarily a marketing tactic for attorneys, especially because many people will talk with several lawyers before settling on one they want.
Is the Meeting Confidential?
Yes. Your meetings with an attorney about divorce are protected by attorney-client privilege, even if you haven’t decided to hire them yet. Your attorney is obligated to remain silent about your case, even if you never end up hiring them.
Pros of Using an Attorney
There are several reasons to hire an attorney for a divorce in New Hampshire.
For many people, the most important reason is having someone to talk to. Divorces are often stressful, even when couples are parting on good terms, and feeling alone during a time when courts expect timely and correct paperwork can feel burdensome. Attorneys give you someone to rely on throughout the process.
Next, working with attorneys often leads to more-balanced results. A great negotiator can spot any bad clauses in offers, or help suggest options during mediation. Lawyers can also consider your priorities and help you decide what to focus on and what to compromise with.
Finally, attorneys often end up saving you money during a divorce. Although most people think of lawyers as an expensive but necessary service, a competent lawyer can often get you better terms in the divorce than you’d otherwise have. Over time, this means that you’ll end up saving more than you spend.
Cons of Using an Attorney
Many people prefer working on their divorce case with a lawyer, but there are some reasons to avoid this.
The first thing to know is that hiring a lawyer can come as a surprise to a spouse who isn’t expecting the divorce. This can make them feel pressured to act and suspicious of your motives, which strains the whole process.
The other thing to know is that lawyers can be expensive at the moment even if they end up saving you money over time. If you don’t have a lot of cash on hand, hiring a lawyer outright may not be viable. Some nonprofit organizations can help with this, however.
Filing for Divorce in New Hampshire
The process of filing for divorce in New Hampshire is fundamentally similar to most other states, including the need to fill out a lot of paperwork. Broadly, though, there are five parts to the process.
Pro Tip: The information below is perfect for you to get an overview of the divorce filing process and also use as a guide if you will be filing for divorce on your own. However, if you are using an attorney, their team will typically be taking care of these steps as part of their proper representation of you as a client.
Preparing Your Divorce Forms
The first part of filing for a divorce in New Hampshire is filling out the paperwork. You should file a Joint Petition for Divorce if you and your partner agree on the divorce. Otherwise, you need to file a standard Petition for Divorce. Regardless of whether you’re filing solo or jointly, you also need to provide a Personal Data Sheet to the court.
From there, you’ll need to file additional paperwork as explained by the court’s page linked above. An attorney can tell you which papers you need to fill out and, in many cases, they can also help you fill them correctly. Generally, you should prepare as many forms ahead of time as possible.
One important thing to remember is that preparing divorce forms does not start the divorce process in the legal sense. This means you’re not on any regulatory deadline just because you start filling out paperwork. You can wait to file these forms until you think it’s a better time for you.
Make sure to double-check every form after you fill it out and ensure that it’s correct. Any errors in the paperwork could result in problems later, especially if it’s on an issue of substance. In this context, substance means anything relevant to the process, such as correctly explaining your income and assets.
If you want assistance with preparing your divorce forms appropriately and instructions on how to file them correctly, using an online divorce service is a great idea to save a lot of money and hassle.
We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.
Filing Your Divorce Forms
Once you have all the paperwork you need, it’s time to file them with the court. This is what begins the process of divorce. The exact place to file varies slightly by the venue, but typically, you’ll need to file your paperwork in the same county where you live. Some counties have several courts, so you may need to call and clarify which one to go to.
Attorneys can file paperwork on your behalf, so you don’t necessarily need to go to court to submit everything. However, make sure all of the paperwork is ready to submit. Generally, you need to give the court the originally signed petition, notarized appropriately, and two copies of it.
In most cases, you must file documents in person at the courthouse. New Hampshire has an electronic filing system but does not currently allow divorce petitions to go through it. The court may make exceptions to this on a case-by-case basis, but this would be very unusual and only occur if there’s no other option.
You may need to file papers besides the petition for divorce when you submit your petition. Your lawyer can tell you which papers you need to give to the court and when. If the lawyer is submitting paperwork for you, they’ll usually notify you when they file things.
Once you file your forms, it’s time to hurry up and wait. It usually takes the courts in New Hampshire several weeks to process your paperwork, and you can’t do anything else until that happens.
After the court processes things, you should get three sets of paperwork in the mail. If you’re working with an attorney, the court may mail them to your attorney’s office instead, and you can either pick them up or have your lawyer drop them off.
The packets will come with instructions known as Orders of Notice. These give you specific instructions to follow for the next step of the process, which is serving your spouse.
Serving Your Spouse
Serving your spouse is the legal process of notifying your spouse of proceedings during a divorce case. There are several ways to do this.
One option is for the spouse to pick up a copy of the paperwork at the court. This is largely optional, however, as most people use one of the other ways.
Unlike many other states, New Hampshire does not expect you to serve your spouse with paperwork personally, and this is not the correct way to do it. Instead, you have two options.
First, you can mail the documents through restricted delivery. This allows the post office to deliver the paperwork, but the respondent must sign a receipt to indicate that they’ve gotten the paperwork. Nobody else can sign on their behalf.
Second, you can hire the county sheriff, generally in the county where the respondent lives. Sheriffs can also deliver divorce paperwork and get signatures indicating receipt.
New Hampshire generally prefers receipts because this proves the other spouse got the paperwork and avoids situations where someone properly served can claim they didn’t get the paperwork.
New Hampshire requires that both parties in a divorce case file financial information early in the case. This is known as the Mandatory Initial Self Disclosure, and it includes a Discovery process, a financial affidavit, several years of tax returns, documentation on healthcare costs, and various other matters.
It’s always best to comply with financial disclosure requests as early and comprehensively as possible. Courts in New Hampshire do not like it if you seem to be hiding information from them and this could lead to them entering a judgment that’s harshly against you.
If you cannot comply with the disclosures on time (for example, if you recently had a fire that destroyed records), the best thing to do is tell your attorney and ask what they advise. They may suggest contacting the court, explaining what specific things you cannot provide, why you can’t do it, how you’re attempting to resolve it, and what your expected timetable is.
Most courts are willing to be lenient, based on the specific details of your situation, as long as you’re visibly making a good-faith effort to comply. Part of visibility is contacting the court right away if you have a problem because this shows that you’re not trying to hide an issue.
Child Impact Seminar
This section only applies if you have a minor involved in the case. If you do, all parties must attend an educational seminar explaining how divorces usually affect children and how parents can minimize the impact on a child.
New Hampshire’s courts place the welfare of children first, so the courts are strict on this. Expect to be summoned to appear in person and explain yourself if you don’t attend, and there’s a good chance you’ll be held in contempt of court. Worse, the court may bar you from participating in future actions about your case.
In short, make sure you attend the Child Impact Seminar. If you cannot attend in person, notify the court immediately. They can usually do the seminar digitally or find an alternative way to help you attend.
Online Divorce in New Hampshire
Online divorce is very practical in New Hampshire, especially if you have an uncontested divorce. Several online services offer help with completing and submitting paperwork to the courts, including people who can file things on your behalf. This minimizes the amount of time you’ll need to spend.
How to Qualify for an Online Divorce in New Hampshire
Technically, almost anyone who is seeking an uncontested divorce can qualify for an online divorce in New Hampshire.
Using an online service for a contested divorce is a viable option. These online companies offer paperwork for this, but they don’t always provide legal advice or representation.
This essentially means you’re paying for help with the paperwork part, but you’re not getting any support for the most challenging part of the divorce. So you will need to handle that on your own.
All divorce cases are slightly different from each other. Details like assets and income, the number of children in a household, and even personal health issues can impact a case.
Essentially, this means that an online paperwork-focused divorce service is appropriate for some people but they’re not for everyone.
If you’re thinking about using an online service, look over their website carefully and see which services they offer. If their setup doesn’t match your needs, consider looking for another online service or finding an attorney instead.
The upside of online divorce services is that they’re a lot more affordable than hiring an attorney, so they’re a practical option if you don’t need extra help.
Do You Still Need to Go to Court?
In most cases, you’ll need to go to court at least once to get a divorce in New Hampshire. There are several reasons you might be called in, including attending a trial to decide matters in a contested divorce or participating in the Child Impact Seminar.
The need to show up in person is why it’s hard to get a wholly online divorce in New Hampshire. More realistically, you can do some parts online, or even most, but probably not the entire process.
How Long Does It Take To Get a Divorce in New Hampshire
The time it takes to get a divorce in New Hampshire varies based on several factors, including whether any children are involved and whether it’s contested or uncontested.
An uncontested divorce typically takes from 1-3 months. This includes the time to get mailed copies of the documents you filed, serving your spouse, attending the Child Impact Seminar, and finalizing any remaining issues.
The divorce is final and takes effect 30 days after the clerk enters what’s known as a notice of decision. This period allows either party to appeal, as well as time to contact debtors, workplaces, insurance companies, and anybody else who needs to know about the upcoming separation.
Many couples start acting separately shortly after their court cases, but you are still married until the grace period ends, and you still have all the rights and responsibilities of marriage until then.
Other factors can also affect a divorce. Here are some of the most common things that affect the timetable for a divorce in New Hampshire.
- Assets: A couple’s assets can affect how long a divorce takes in New Hampshire. Courts generally expect the distribution to be fair, but not always equal, so too much bias here can result in the judge insisting on changes.
- Children: Having minor children usually drags a divorce case out, even when it’s uncontested. Part of this is because couples often try to finalize the divorce when it minimizes the impact on children, but courts also take more time to review plans and ensure a divorce keeps the child’s needs at the forefront.
- Discovery: Discovery is how each side can request information to ensure the other side is being truthful during divorce proceedings. This usually doesn’t take too long in New Hampshire, especially for people prepared for a divorce, but people with large and complicated assets could see this take a while.
- Judicial Intervention: Judges have a lot of leeway to intervene in divorce cases, particularly when it comes to ensuring the welfare of any minor children. Most judges don’t exercise this power too often, but they could theoretically demand a complete renegotiation of a settlement agreement if it seems too unfair.
- Negotiations: Negotiations include all types of discussions, mediation sessions, and attempts to create settlement agreements. This usually takes several days in a contested divorce, but could easily stretch into weeks or months during difficult separations. Generally, more assets mean longer negotiations.
- Prenuptial Agreements: New Hampshire generally recognizes prenuptial agreements as long as they’re valid when entered and sufficiently detailed. A valid prenuptial agreement can significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to divorce.
- Rest Periods: Most people don’t work exclusively on the divorce until it’s finished. Between employment, continuing to raise any children, and efforts to start new hobbies or make new friends, some people end up taking regular breaks unless a court deadline is looming. This can easily extend the timeframe for divorce by a week or two.
- Third Parties: Third parties may be relevant to a divorce case, especially if they’re relevant to a child’s welfare. Couples may also seek expert testimony, valuations for assets, or similar help. This can push the process back, but courts usually accept delays for third parties.
- Unexpected Events: Life can throw curveballs into divorce proceedings. Illnesses or injuries, loss of a job, or time-sensitive opportunities can all distract someone from a divorce. Judges don’t like delays for entertainment, but most are willing to put a hold on things if you literally can’t participate in the process for a time.
As you can see from the number of factors involved, it’s hard to give an exact estimate for how long contested divorces take. Many finish in 3-6 months with a lot of the delay coming from negotiations, but it could easily stretch to twelve months or more for particularly complex cases.
The best way to get an estimate for how long a divorce is likely to take in your situation is to ask a divorce lawyer for their opinion. They can evaluate factors like your assets, then give a realistic timeframe.
Keep in mind that judges may intervene if you seem like you’re taking too long to decide and not making any progress. It’s difficult to stop the process once it begins.
Divorce Costs in New Hampshire
Like most states, there are several different types of costs that can go into a divorce in New Hampshire. You can reduce or eliminate many of these fees if you’re low on assets and know where to ask for help.
Court fees for a divorce in New Hampshire start at $250 for couples without minor children and $252 for couples with minor children. The Circuit Court accepts payment through card, check, and cash.
You may need to pay additional fees if you’re entering any other motions at the same time you get a divorce. For example, if you’re making an adoption petition as part of the divorce, that will be another $150.
You can check current circuit court filing fees online. Note that you may have to pay additional fees for paperwork, copies of certificates, and so on.
New Hampshire’s courts, like most courts, can waive their court fees as a hardship exemption. This requires sending them a Motion to Waive Filing Fee, which they may accept in full, accept in part, or deny.
Attorney fees vary significantly in New Hampshire. Most people pay between $200 and $300 an hour if hiring an attorney to manage the case. Flat rates are usually less than this, but they can go higher depending on how much help you’re asking the lawyer for.
The main issue with estimating the cost of an attorney is that it can be hard to know how long your case will take until it happens. Most lawyers can give you a good estimate for an uncontested divorce the first time you talk to them, but contested divorces can stretch on for weeks, months, or even years.
Realistically, you might spend over $9000 on each lawyer involved in the case. This is roughly 30 hours of work on the lawyer’s part for a contested divorce. Uncontested divorces are usually well under $1000 since it’s mostly quick paperwork review and filing documents as needed.
This cost goes down significantly if you qualify for help through a nonprofit organization or can otherwise convince a lawyer to do pro bono work.
New Hampshire’s court system has a list of places to get legal assistance, and this is a good place to start if you don’t think you can afford an attorney.
Lawyers usually prefer getting a retainer, but some may also be willing to give you a payment plan if you can’t pay them in full right away. This can be another way to reduce the immediate impact of hiring an attorney to represent you.
Remember, lawyers can often help you acquire more money than you spend on them during the divorce process. $9000 is a lot of money, but if they can help you gain assets worth over $100,000 that you otherwise wouldn’t get in the separation, then they’re paying for themselves many times over.
Litigation costs are technically separate from regular attorney fees, although they are close to each other. Much of an attorney’s price will depend on whether you expect to go to trial or not and whether there’s any other litigation involved. You can also expect to pay additional court fees if you have to go to trial.
Mediation (reduce costs)
Mediation is a common choice for reducing the costs of a divorce. Put simply, trials are expensive. Just negotiating settlements with a spouse can take a lot of time, and therefore money, when all you want is to get things over with.
Mediation doesn’t need a lawyer’s help and it’s far more affordable, usually just a fraction of the cost of a lawyer’s time for a multi-hour session. This makes it a practical and affordable option for couples who are willing to negotiate.
One important thing to keep in mind is that a mediator has no decision-making power. They are not there to decide who is right or wrong, so they can remain neutral and urge both parties to find common ground.
Courts may suggest or even require that couples go through mediation to try and resolve differences.
Online Divorce Service
Online divorce services are often cheaper than hiring an attorney for an uncontested divorce. They can help with getting the paperwork for a contested divorce, too, but most don’t provide help throughout the process. If they do, it’s usually for an extra fee.
Prices vary by company and services provided, but most cost somewhere between $150 and $550. They may include a filing service as part of the package so you don’t need to go to the courthouse yourself, but their fees do not include the $250 filing fees unless stated otherwise.
If you want assistance with preparing your divorce forms appropriately and instructions on how to file them correctly, using an online divorce service is a great idea to save a lot of money and hassle.
We reviewed, rated, and ranked the best online divorce services available and our #1 choice is 3StepDivorce.
Custody Considerations in New Hampshire
One thing to keep in mind about New Hampshire’s laws is that they’ve changed the focus from custody to parental rights and responsibilities. While the details are largely the same, it’s meant to emphasize the focus on children, rather than a combative stance between parents.
Like many other states, these rights and responsibilities fall into two major categories.
Decision-making responsibility focuses on legal authority over a child, including the right to make many legal, financial, and medical decisions on the child’s behalf. Under Section 461-A:5, New Hampshire presumes that joint decision-making responsibility is in the best interests of children absent compelling reason otherwise.
This means that it can be very difficult for a parent to obtain sole rights on most decisions. However, if the marriage is terminated for one of the causes explained earlier in this guide (such as physical abuse), the court may agree that one spouse is not fit to make responsible decisions on a child’s behalf.
Residential responsibility is New Hampshire’s preferred term for where a child lives. The state focuses on the best interests of the child over other considerations, as explained in Section 461-A:6, so this means the court can look at factors like educational opportunities and the child’s own preferences in determining residential responsibility.
This can play out in many forms, such as children spending just the weekend with one parent, or even spending the whole summer with them and the rest of the year with the other parent. Unlike decision-making responsibility, where joint is the default, residential responsibility will not necessarily be equal.
By law, several factors can affect these considerations, including:
- Communication: Courts prefer situations where parents are able and willing to continue communicating unless that would result in harm.
- Contact: Like communication, courts prefer situations where parents will support and encourage a child’s contact with the other parent. Also like communication, this is reversed if that contact would cause any harm.
- Cooperation: Communication isn’t the same thing as cooperation. Courts are willing to consider how much parents will work with each other to exercise decision-making responsibilities jointly, rather than trying to retain sole control.
- Developmental Needs: A child’s developmental needs include unique considerations, such as cognitive difficulties or physical limitations. Courts can assess a parent’s ability to meet these.
- Environment: New Hampshire’s courts can assess a parent’s ability to ensure children receive basic needs, including general safety, shelter, clothes, food, and medical care as needed.
- Evidence of Abuse: Any reasonable evidence of abuse has a major impact on how courts decide residential responsibility. Remember that they can overrule a proposal from both parties if they don’t like it.
- Family Relationships: New Hampshire’s courts favor parents who can nurture children and provide love, affection, and guidance to them.
- Incarceration: If one or both parents are incarcerated, that can significantly impact all parental responsibilities. Courts may consider placing the child with another family.
- Other Relationships: Although a bit rare in practice, New Hampshire’s courts can consider other relationships a child may have, especially if the continuation or removal of that relationship will significantly affect them. Note that the law says affect, not harm. A relationship can be positive or negative here.
- Schooling: Children’s adjustment to new schooling options is a factor in residential responsibility arrangements.
Finally, outside of these, courts may also consider any other factor they decide is relevant to the case. This means that a factor does not need to be explicitly stated in the law as long as a judge believes it’s relevant to deciding rights and responsibilities towards children.
Child Support Considerations in New Hampshire
Child support in New Hampshire is mainly determined by Section 458-C, although it’s slightly more complex than in other states. New Hampshire’s stance is that both parents are responsible for supporting children, and therefore the total child support obligation is split between parents’ total net income.
As a formula-based state, New Hampshire prefers using its posted table and calculations for most child support considerations. However, it also makes allowances for special situations, as described below:
- Household Members: The courts can consider the effect of other household members on child support, including stepparents, stepchildren, and any adopted children in the household.
- Income: New Hampshire considers significantly high or low incomes. Generally, if someone’s income is so low they couldn’t support themselves and pay child support, or so high that a normal percentage is unreasonable, the courts will modify it.
- Ongoing Expenses: Major educational, dental, or medical expenses can impact an obligation to provide child support. This includes expenses related to the child, not just the parent.
- Reasonable Expenses: A parent who pays child support may have reduced requirements for making other reasonable expenses on the child’s behalf. What this means depends on the circumstances, but generally includes payments made to exercise their rights and responsibilities as a parent.
- Parenting Schedule: Having near-equal time with the child does not remove child support expectations in New Hampshire. However, the balance of payments for child-related expenses during parenting times can do that. Courts also consider whether the child can grow up in a similar style in both homes.
- Tax Optimization: Sometimes, making or receiving child support can have tax consequences. If this would hurt someone more than it helps, courts may adjust things accordingly.
- Special Circumstances: Finally, courts have broad authority under Section 458-C:5:I(j) to consider any other special circumstances that would result in an unreasonably high or low amount. In practice, this means a court can consider any factor it wants, so parents can petition the court for adjustments over things not otherwise set by law.
New Hampshire determines things for Section 458-C:5 through parties providing a preponderance of the evidence. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, it means that someone must show proof that their claim is more likely than not.
This is not the same thing as an absolute standard of proof. Courts will generally accept many types of evidence when people are requesting changes to child support. For example, someone’s federal tax return is generally enough to establish a very high or low income and modify child support orders accordingly.
Alimony Considerations in New Hampshire
New Hampshire sets alimony considerations mainly through Section 458:19 and its subsections (especially 19-a), including listing certain exclusions to income. Courts have broad authority to order this both by agreement of the parties or in the absence of an agreement.
Notably, requests for alimony must be made no later than five years after the divorce becomes final. This means someone can ask for it several years after they separate, based on their ongoing circumstances.
Most alimony payments are limited to 50% of the length of the marriage. This means that ten years of marriage equals five years of alimony, and so on, with the amount set to help ensure a separated partner can meet their reasonable needs and standard of living.
Alimony is almost always allowed if parties agree to it. If either side contests it, the court can only order these payments if the party in need lacks sufficient property to provide for their needs or cannot be self-supporting, and the party paying can still meet their own reasonable needs in the process.
Most alimony is set by checking gross income, but New Hampshire modifies payment amounts based on existing child support or alimony and costs for health care and other specified expenses made on behalf of the other party.
Furthermore, the court can adjust alimony payments if a judge decides that justice requires it. Section 19-a describes this in more detail, but circumstances that can modify it include things like the duration of financial dependency, differences in benefits, diminution of assets, or abuse.
This is one area where having an at-fault divorce can come into play. Courts in New Hampshire generally don’t like making a victim pay support to their abuser, so the law specifically allows them to set or even remove support payments for reasons like that.
Courts can modify alimony payments later under Section 458:19-aa. Generally, this requires a substantial change in circumstances, no undue hardship caused by the change, and that justice requires a change in either the amount or duration. Modifications can be retroactive on request.
Alimony typically ends upon the cohabitation or marriage of the person receiving payments, although it can resume afterward. Also, income from either overtime or a second job is treated as irrelevant for modifications, assuming the payer started that job after they began paying alimony and works at least a single full-time position.
Division of Assets
New Hampshire is an equitable state for the division of assets, as set under Section 458:16-a. Equitable distribution means that the split needs to be fair in the division of assets, but not necessarily equal.
Despite being an equitable state, New Hampshire’s laws linked above assume that an equal division of property is what’s equitable. This means a 50:50 division of assets is the default, and the court will only order modifications if it decides that’s relevant to the case. Courts have extremely broad authority to determine what should be counted for this.
For these purposes, property includes both tangible and intangible assets, belonging to either party and whether it’s held in one name or both. This means that things one person wholly-owned before marriage can be split during the divorce.
There are several ways to handle real estate in a divorce in New Hampshire. A couple can sell the house and split the profits from it, but if either side objects, this can only happen at the judge’s order. The presence of minor children can reinforce a party’s desire to keep the house.
New Hampshire allows for alternatives in handling real estate, such as one party buying out the other’s share in the home, refinancing the property, or keeping the house while a child lives there and selling the home later. The court will decide what to do with real estate if a couple can’t.
401k, IRA, Investments
Investments and most other retirement options are subject to division during divorce. How this happens usually depends on the asset. In most cases, though, the owner usually keeps the account and the spouse receives a share of it once it starts paying out.
Ensuring this happens may require a filing known as a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. This is different from a divorce order and an attorney or an actuary can help a non-owner obtain it.
Businesses are similar to real estate in New Hampshire. Each spouse will get partial ownership of the business based on the normal asset split, then as modified by any further agreements. Most companies don’t want to have two owners who are at odds with each other.
A common option is for one spouse to get the real estate from divorce while the other spouse gets the business, assuming the values make this fair. Buyouts like this are essentially trading one asset for another to make things easier on everyone.
New Hampshire considers almost all assets subject to division in a divorce. Couples are expected to divide minor assets (tableware, smaller furniture, etc.) between themselves. The same goes for resolving debt, although courts tend to judge that on a case-by-case basis.
Common-Law Marriage Considerations in New Hampshire
Common-law marriage is when people live together long enough that they’re treated as married. New Hampshire recognizes common-law marriages, but unlike some other states, it doesn’t usually refer to them by this name.
Instead, they define this in Section 457:39, defining it as cohabitation where the partners acknowledge each other as husband and wife and are generally known to others as such. If this goes on for at least three years, a couple is treated as if they were legally married, regardless of whether anyone filed paperwork.
Demonstrating a common law marriage can be a little tricky if there’s no paper trail for it, especially if the partner is now deceased. If a surviving spouse wants to claim a partner’s assets after death, for example, they may need to gather testimony from others and present it to the court.
New Hampshire is generally accepting of evidence of marriage. As outlined in Section 458:13, the court considers general repute, evidence of cohabitation, and any other circumstantial or presumptive evidence as sufficient proof for consideration.
Alternatives To Divorce in New Hampshire
New Hampshire allows for several alternatives to divorce. Most couples leaning towards divorce ultimately separate, but these alternatives can slow and ease the process in some circumstances.
New Hampshire allows legal separation, and it can be granted on either fault or no-fault grounds. A legal separation is similar to divorce but doesn’t end the partnership. Some people choose this when they want to have time for themselves, while others use it primarily for tax reasons.
Unlike some states, New Hampshire generally doesn’t put a time limit on legal separation, so it could theoretically last for decades. However, couples must report to the court if they’ve either resumed their marriage or started cohabitating.
Legal separation in New Hampshire generally includes awarding alimony, child support, and parental responsibilities. It may also include restraining orders, as determined by the situation.
New Hampshire allows annulment, which is a legal determination that a marriage never existed. This only applies to the civil aspect of marriage. Religious annulments of marriage do not carry legal weight in New Hampshire, although most people who get one of those also seek a civil annulment.
You can only get an annulment for five reasons in New Hampshire, including:
- Bigamy: Annulments are allowed if either spouse was married to someone else.
- Fraud: Lying to a partner to induce them to marry is grounds for annulment. For example, if someone swore they had significant financial assets they’d share and didn’t have them, courts can annul things.
- Incest: Courts in New Hampshire can terminate marriages where partners are too closely related.
- Lack of Consent: If someone requires consent from a parent or guardian to get married, usually because of age, lack of consent can be grounds for annulling things.
- Threats: Marriages that occur under severe threats, such as violence, can be annulled.
Most annulments are entered quickly after any hearings, so this is often faster and cheaper than getting a divorce.
Work It Out Together
Some people choose to work things out instead of divorcing. Talking honestly and openly about issues can be an effective way of resolving smaller differences.
Seeking counseling is an alternative to working things out together. Although it’s a little more expensive than doing it alone, counselors can provide professional guidance and advice to help couples repair their relationships.
Courts may suggest or even insist that a couple attend counseling before proceeding with a divorce.
An open marriage is where partners are treated as free to pursue other relationships. Many people use this as an in-between step before getting a divorce, allowing them to smooth over the transition.
For example, a wife in an open marriage can look for a future husband and even have sexual relations with them, and this won’t be treated as wrong by their current husband.
Note that having an open marriage and starting a new relationship is technically adultery in New Hampshire, and therefore grounds for divorce in its own right. In practice, an open marriage means a couple acting like they’re already divorced while they’re waiting to finish the paperwork.
Read More: Dating During a Divorce
Finally, there’s a parenting marriage. This is when a couple stays together for the benefit of a child, without the expectation of romance or other emotional support. Like an open marriage, this is usually a pre-divorce plan made to have an uncontested divorce after a child moves out and no longer needs support.
Lauren Cook-McKay is the Vice President of Marketing at DivorceAnswers.com. She holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) from the University of San Diego and applies her training in private practice to helping couples struggling in their marriage. She believes there is hope in all marriages and strives to provide therapy to couples that will lead them back towards a loving marriage, or an amicable divorce that brings peace and closure.