An Overview Of The New Hampshire Divorce Process
Divorce in New Hampshire is the process by which a marriage is dissolved. When the divorce is finalized orders are issued regarding the distribution of property, child or spousal support, and in cases with minor children, parenting. The case starts with the filing of a Petition and ends with the court issuing a Decree of Divorce. Although many cases are filed in the courts each year, most of the parties will ultimately reach an agreement prior to the final hearing. Where in the process that agreement is reached is the biggest factor in cost, time and emotional turmoil. Attempting to resolve the case from the beginning can save time, money and create a better result. The following is a general overview of the typical court process in a traditional divorce.
Filing the Petition – The case begins with the filing of a Petition for Divorce. A petition can be filed by one party, who then becomes the petitioner, or the parties can file a petition together called a Joint Petition.
First Appearance – Once the petition is filed and proper service is made, the court will schedule a hearing. If there are minor children, this hearing will be called a First Appearance. This hearing is mostly informational, but there are certain things that you must do before this hearing, including attendance of the Child Impact Program, a 4-hour informational seminar on how to help children deal with issues surrounding divorce. Parties can attend separately or together.
Status Hearing – If there are no minor children, the court will often schedule a Status Hearing or Status Conference. This is a short hearing where the Court will determine what the next action in the case should be. The Rule 1.25A requirements apply in these cases, too.
Mediation – In most cases the court will schedule the parties for mediation with a court-appointed mediator. This can happen at various points in the process but often occurs at the First Appearance or at the Status Hearing.
Rule 1.25A –The court has a rule that requires parties to exchange a list of financial documents. These documents must be provided to the other party within 45 days of the service of the petition, or 10 days before a Temporary Hearing, whichever comes first. These documents do not get filed with the court, but failure to provide them to the other party can result in a contempt finding by the judge.
Financial Affidavit – Prior to any hearing, the court will require the parties to complete a Financial Affidavit and file it with the court. This form lists each of the parties’ gross income and all of the parties’ assets and debts. This form is sworn to under oath as a statement which is complete, true, and accurate. These documents are a critical part of any divorce case and should be filled out completely and accurately. You will need to update this form before each hearing.
Temporary Hearing – The Temporary Hearing is where the court issues orders which will be in effect while the case is pending. At these hearings the court will often decide who will remain in the marital home, what support will be paid, who will provide insurance, who will pay the expenses while the case is pending, and what the parenting schedule will be.
Final Hearing – This is the hearing where the court issues final orders on property, support, and parenting. Final orders are made through three main documents known as the Final Decree, Uniform Support Order and Final Parenting Plan. Each of these documents address specific aspects of the divorce.
Additional Hearings – Throughout the process the court may schedule additional hearings to address issues specific to that case. The court may hold review hearings on parenting issues or may hold hearings to address discovery disputes. In some cases, the court may appoint a Guardian Ad Litem to make recommendations on parenting. The court may order parties to attend drug and alcohol or mental health counseling and may order them to submit to evaluations or drug testing. In complex financial cases the court may even appoint a commissioner to oversee financial disclosures. Each case is unique and requires different levels of court involvement and oversight. Ultimately, in a litigated case, the court has broad authority to issue those orders it deems necessary.
Process Choices -In a divorce, the question is not whether decisions on property, parenting and support will be made. In the end, the Court will issue orders on all of them. The most important questions are how do you want those decisions to be made and who do you want making them. This is where you have a choice. For some families, litigation is the best option; for others, mediation, the collaborative process, or settlement negotiations are a better alternative. Learning about your options and determining which approach is best for you and your family is a crucial step. Choosing the right process in which to make these essential decisions is as important as the decisions themselves. Call me to make an appointment to discuss what options are best for you.