Determining Child Custody in New Hampshire (also referred to as a parenting plan)

Divorce can be a difficult situation, particularly for families with children. One of the hardest parts of the divorce is deciding custody, support, and visitation for the children. Every divorce is different so it is imperative that you seek immediate help from an experienced New Hampshire divorce attorney. Your lawyer will review every aspect of your case, answer your questions, and guide you through the divorce process. One area in particular is especially important to work out – the children. In New Hampshire the parents are required to develop a parenting plan that will be utilized as part of the divorce order. Parents need to understand that they need to work out a plan that is in the best interest of the children.

Types of Custody

There are two types of child custody in New Hampshire. These include legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody governs the important decisions about the children such as where they will go to school, what church they will attend, and health treatment (to name just a few). Physical custody refers to the location where the child will live. Within each type of custody there are variations that can include one or both parents. Joint legal custody is typically the most common type of custody awarded. It requires that both parents make major decisions about the children together or that either one is able to make these decisions. In cases where one parent is deemed unfit or unable to make these decisions, the other parent will be the primary legal custodian. Children may reside with one parent as a primary physical custodian and visit the other at designated times. Joint physical custody is where the child spends equal time living in each parent’s home.


The non-custodial parent will typically be allowed visitation with the child. These visitation times are outlined in a parenting schedule or parenting plan that is part of the divorce order. Parents must agree to specific visitation schedules. For example, a child may visit with the non-custodial parent every other weekend. The plan also outlines how the child will be picked up and dropped off. Other important considerations include where the child will spend holidays, vacations, and birthdays. Once a parenting plan is in place and the visitation is ordered it can’t be changed except through the court.


In order to make changes to a parenting plan, visitation schedule, or support payment order the parent must file for a court hearing. The parent must have reason to do so and it must be done in accordance with the method set up in their specific parenting plan. Both parents will need to attend this hearing where they can discuss the issues that want to be modified. It is important to have your New Hampshire family law attorney with you at this hearing to ensure that you understand and agree to the determination. Your lawyer will assist you throughout the process and will answer any questions you may have regarding the modification.


Child Custody: Defining a Child’s Best Interests

When divorcing spouses enter a New Hampshire court to seek a judge’s decision regarding parenting arrangements, the judge’s decision will be influenced by what the child’s best interests are. Each situation is assessed based upon its unique circumstances, and New Hampshire’s laws are designed around the fact that most general benefit from “frequent and continuing contact” with both parents and from having parents who share equally in the rights and responsibilities of raising said child. Judges will take into account a number of factors that are relevant to child custody, and this list of factors includes:

The Safety and Health of the Child

A child’s physical well-being will be one of the primary factors that a judge takes into account. A judge does consider each parent’s ability to provide their children with the basic necessities of life, such as medical care, shelter, clothing, and food; however, simply because one parent is more financially well-off than another does not mean that he or she will be given preference in terms of custody. What is important is that the child is provided with a safe environment. If one parent possesses a history of alcoholism or domestic violence, then an NH judge will more than likely order supervised visitation. If a parent has a history of sexual assault or is determined to have sexually abused their own child or another child, then a judge will bar that parent from having any contact with their child.

The Developmental and Emotional Needs of the Child

Emotional factors are defined as the strength of the emotional bond that a child has with each parent and the parent’s ability, both currently and in the future, to meet their child’s developmental needs. A judge’s decision will not be based upon the sex of the child or parent. New Hampshire law enables a judge to grant visitation rights to a step parent or grandparent if it is deemed to be in the child’s best interests. If a judge believes that the child is of age and emotionally mature enough to make a rational decision, then they will more than likely ask the child what their personal preference regarding custody is.

The Communication Skills of the Parents

New Hampshire laws place a considerable emphasis on each parent’s ability to maintain a positive relationship with their co-parent. Unless the judge possesses a solid reason to believe that ongoing contact with a parent figure will be harmful to the child, NH law requires each parent to promote and encourage positive, frequent contact. Before a court decides whether or not joint custody is appropriate, the court will examine the parents’ ability to cooperate and communicate with one another when it comes to making joint decisions.

The Options for Custody

Custody is comprised of two portions. The first portion is legal custody, which is defined as a parent’s responsibility for making significant decisions regarding their child’s education, health, and general welfare. The second portion is physical custody, which refers to the amount of physical time a child spends with a parent. New Hampshire law has a marked preference for joint custody unless evidence of unfitness exists or believes that the parents will be unable to successfully cooperate with one another.

New Hampshire Parenting Plans

A New Hampshire judge will always prefer that parental responsibilities to their children are met through working together, like through the creation of a parenting plan rather than asking a judge to make the decision for them. If special circumstances, like physical abuse or domestic violence, do not exist, then a judge can require that two parents who are having difficulties cooperating with one another, participate in mediation. If an agreement still cannot be reached, an NH court will create a parenting plan based upon what they believe to be in the child’s best interests.

The more specific a plan for parenting is, the more simple it will be to enforce and follow. Just some of the issues that a parenting plan will address include:

  • How decision making responsibilities are divided between two parents
  • Where each parent legally resides
  • Any conditions or restrictions placed on a parent’s ability to move residences
  • How a child will be transported between parents
  • Methods for resolving disputes that could arise in the future

To learn more about how New Hampshire law defines a child’s best interests and parenting plans, please contact one of our experienced NH child custody attorneys today for a free consultation.