How Do I File for Divorce in New Hampshire

Get an overview of the divorce filing process in New Hampshire.

If you are considering representing yourself in your divorce case and you live in New Hampshire, you may be interested to know that New Hampshire has a user-friendly website to guide you. The website at  www.courts.state.nh.us  offers plainly written instruction and fill-in forms to get you from start to finish. As long as either spouse has at least one year of residency in New Hampshire, the divorce can be handled in this state.

Some Key Points

A “petition” is the document that begins the divorce process. New Hampshire has two separate ways to start a divorce: the "Joint Petition" and the "Individual Petition."

There is a court fee to file (submit) the divorce petition with the court. If you cannot afford the fee, fill out a waiver request form.

How to Begin with a Joint Petition

If you and your spouse both agree to start the divorce, use the joint petition. At this point, the couple does not need a final agreement on the entire divorce. They just need to agree to start the process.

Both spouses must sign the joint petition before a notary public or justice of the peace. Once completed, the joint petition can be mailed in or brought in to the courthouse. Include the "Personal Data Sheet" and the court filing fee. The personal data sheet asks for basic information about the couple, such as mailing addresses, residences, date of marriage, and names of children.

Even though you are using a joint petition, on the form itself the “petitioner” is the first spouse listed. The second spouse is the “respondent.” For example, if Peter Public and Paula Public are completing a joint petition, and Peter lists his name first, Peter is now the petitioner. Paula is the respondent. Bear in mind listing one name first does not affect the outcome of the case.

How to Begin the Divorce with an Individual Petition

The second way to start a divorce is to file an individual petition for divorce. The spouse starting the divorce is called the “petitioner.” The other spouse is the “respondent.”

The court website has a fill-inform. Once you complete the form, sign it before a notary public or justice of the peace. You can either mail in or bring to the court the original petition and two copies, the personal data sheet, and the filing fee.

Where Is the Divorce Filed?

The court website has a list of family courts and the towns each court covers. The court fees are also listed. You can file your petition in the court that covers the town where either spouse lives.

Service on the Other Spouse

“Service” means how the other spouse is given a copy of the divorce petition. The law has specific rules on how to complete service. When the court receives the individual petition, the court clerk’s office sends the respondent a letter saying that the divorce has been filed. The respondent can pick up a copy of the divorce petition at the court.

If the respondent does not come to the court for the copy, the court clerk writes to the petitioner to say that the divorce petition. The court clerk will forward to the petitioner two copies of the divorce, both of which have the court seal embedded in them. One copy is labeled “service copy.” The second copy is labeled “return copy.” There a two ways to serve the respondent.

Mail the service copy to the respondent:

  • send the mail certified, return receipt requested, and
  • use restricted delivery so only the respondent spouse can sign.

Hire the sheriff for the county where the respondent lives or works:

  • contact the sheriff’s civil process department
  • give the sheriff the respondent’s home or work address
  • tell the sheriff the service copy can be left at the home address or given to the respondent directly if the sheriff goes to the workplace.

If you use certified mail, when you receive the return receipt, (the green card) mail it and the return copy of the petition back to the court.

The sheriff charges a prepaid fee for service. If you use the sheriff, the sheriff will mail you the return copy. The copy will include a written statement saying that the petition was served. Mail these papers back to the court as soon as possible.

What do I do if my spouse files for divorce?

If you receive a petition for divorce, read through the materials very carefully. The divorce paperwork should include the following:

  • an "Appearance" form
  • Child Impact Seminar information (if there are minor children, both parents must attend)
  • court website information
  • A "Financial Affidavit Form"
  • Court Mediation Program information, and
  • Information on “Mandatory Discovery," which means that each side must exchange certain financial documents.

It’s important to complete the appearance form, mail the original to the court and mail a copy to your spouse. If you don’t file your appearance, the court will assume you don’t want a voice in the divorce. Eventually the judge may make decisions about your property, your children, child support and alimony without your input.

Responding to the Divorce

An "Answer" is a response to the divorce petition. Filing an answer is not required. However, if you disagree with any statements in the divorce petition, write an answer and mail it to the court with a copy to your spouse. If you want the judge to make orders favorable to you, regarding issues like child support, parenting rights or alimony, you should complete an answer.

There is no specific answer form on the court website. If you type or neatly print up your answer, label it “Answer” and clearly state what you don’t agree with, usually the court clerk’s office will accept your document.

The Next Steps

If there are minor children, the court requires both spouses to attend a “first appearance.” In this meeting, the judge addresses all those folks who have recently started the divorce process. The judge discusses the court mediation program. The couple has a chance to sign up for mediation. If either spouse doesn’t want mediation, the clerk will schedule a "case manager meeting." The case manager is a court employee who guides self-representing divorce couples through the divorce process.

If there are no minor children in the divorce, and at least one spouse is self represented, the couple will be assigned a case manager. The couple will be given the option to go through the court mediation program as well.

Get more information about the divorce process and learn the major issues at the heart of every divorce case, read New Hampshire Divorce Basics.

The Court Website

The New Hampshire court website can be found at  www.courts.state.nh.us  . Go to the “Circuit Court” tab and click on the "Family Court "section. This site contains routine forms as well as divorce-related information regarding issues including filing fees, child impact seminars, court locations, and hours. New Hampshire has service centers that can be contacted by email or by phone for one-on-one help with court proceedings.

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