There are times in life when it's hard to see the forest for the trees, but never more so than when you're getting divorced. You know it's in your best interest not to prolong things and drive up your expenses, but you're preoccupied with feelings of anger, regret, and sadness, so you're tempted to do things you might not ordinarily do. The result? An ugly, protracted divorce.
The good news? If you can put your head before your heart and talk sensibly with your spouse, you might be able to get an "uncontested divorce" that will save you time and money and let you get on with your life.
This article will explain uncontested divorces in New Hampshire. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney.
In most jurisdictions, uncontested divorce means that you and your spouse agree on all the critical issues, like property division, allocation of debts, custody, parenting time (visitation), alimony, and child support. You have to have a total agreement. If you don't agree on all the issues, then your case is contested and it will proceed to trial.
But New Hampshire is a little bit different from other states. The easiest way to get your uncontested divorce on the fast track is to file a joint petition for divorce. This means that you'll work through the divorce process together with your spouse. You can file a joint petition even if you don't agree on every single issue. Obviously it's best if you can reach a total agreement, but if you can't, the joint petition will tell the court what you and your spouse do and don't agree about. The judge will decide any unresolved issues.
You can only file for divorce in New Hampshire if you meet the residency requirements. At least one of the three following statements has to be true:
You also have to give the court a legal reason (“grounds”) to grant the divorce. You have several options here. You can tell the court that you want a divorce because there are irreconcilable differences between you and your spouse. This means that no one is to blame for any specific wrongdoing, but your marriage has broken down and can't be saved. If you go this route, you won't have to air any dirty laundry in court, and your spouse is more likely to be agreeable to working on a settlement.
Alternatively, you can tell the court that you want a divorce because of your spouse's marital wrongdoing, such as impotency, adultery, extreme cruelty, felony conviction, endangerment, desertion, chemical dependency, religious beliefs that undermine the marriage, or abandonment. However, if you choose one of these grounds, it's less likely that you'll get an uncontested divorce, because your spouse will probably be offended and may disagree with your claims.
Before you begin your paperwork, you'll need to understand how the court system works.
The entry-level trial court in New Hampshire is called the circuit court. The New Hampshire Circuit Court's Family Division, which is the court that will hear your case, has 26 locations in nine counties. Locations are assigned based on the where the parties live. You'll start your divorce by filing your papers in the correct courthouse.
You’re responsible for knowing where to file your papers. If you file in the wrong place, your case could be tossed out or transferred, and you might have to start over. The New Hampshire Judicial Branch has a website you can use to locate the correct court depending on your location.
The forms required to complete your divorce can be obtained online or through the clerk of court at your courthouse. Make sure you use the right forms. Don't be afraid to ask the clerks questions, but do understand that they cannot give you legal advice. You may be able to find answers to some of your questions through the New Hampshire Judicial Branch: Circuit Court Family Division (links to forms and resources), Official Divorce Forms, or New Hampshire Legal Aid (legal aid and divorce guides).
When it comes to a joint petition for divorce, the process starts when both spouses complete the joint petition. When that's done, both spouses have to provide a notarized signature on the petition. Each spouse will also need to complete a personal data sheet, vital statistics form, and a financial affidavit.
If the spouses have children, they have to work together to complete and sign a uniform support order. Each spouse also has to complete a child support guidelines worksheet.
Next, the petitioners should bring the papers to the courthouse for filing. In all cases, the court clerk will issue a case number and charge a filing fee. If you can't afford the fee, you can ask the clerk for a fee waiver form, which you'll use to provide your financial information. If a judge agrees that you're indigent (below the poverty line), the judge will sign an order eliminating all fees in your case.
Don't worry about serving the papers. One of the best benefits of the joint petition for divorce is that it spares you from having to serve papers on anyone. This is a major time and money saver.
If you and your spouse have children together, at some point after you file the joint petition you have to go to a four hour seminar about the effects of divorce on children. After you take the program, you'll get a certificate of completion that you have to show the court. You have to finish the seminar before the final hearing. If you don't take the seminar, the court can sanction (punish) you.
After you file the joint petition, you can request a temporary hearing if you don't have a total agreement. At a temporary hearing, the judge will listen to both sides and write an order about the contested issues. The order will govern everyone until the case settles or is tried.
However, if you have a total agreement on all the issues, you wind down the process by requesting a final hearing date. Before the hearing you'll write, sign, and file an agreement known as a final decree on divorce. The petitioner, the respondent, or both can show up for the final hearing—at least one party has to be there. The court will ask some brief questions and, if the agreement is fair and everything is in order, the judge will sign the decree and your divorce will be final.
New Hampshire Statutes, Chapter 458 (Divorce)