Along with the emotional and practical issues involved in ending a marriage, the divorce process itself requires navigating the legal system in New Hampshire. That might seem intimidating, but it doesn't have to be that difficult—especially if you and your spouse can cooperate. Here's what you need to know to get started with a New Hampshire divorce.
Before you begin the process of filing for divorce in New Hampshire, you should figure out the answers to a few preliminary questions.
In order to qualify for a divorce in New Hampshire, you must meet one of the following criteria:
For the purpose of this residency requirement, living in the state means that you are living in what you consider to be your permanent home. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 458:5 (2023).)
As in all states, you need a legally accepted reason (or "ground") for divorce in New Hampshire. The state allows divorce based on both "fault" grounds and "no-fault" grounds.
When you file for a no-fault divorce in New Hampshire, you'll simply state that you and your spouse have "irreconcilable differences" that caused the "irremediable breakdown" of your marriage. This basically means that you can't get along, and there's no reasonable chance of saving the marriage. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 458:7-a (2023).)
When you file for a fault-based divorce, you'll claim (and may have to prove) that your spouse caused the end of your marriage through a certain kind of misconduct. Maine allows the following fault grounds for divorce:
(N.H. Rev. Stat. § 458:7 (2023); Bascomb v. Bascomb, 25 N.H. 267 (N.H. 1852).)
Ordinarily, it doesn't pay to file for divorce on fault grounds, because it usually make the divorce more contentious. It also diminishes the chances of amicably resolving other issues in your divorce, like alimony (spousal support), child custody, and division of property. The more there is to fight about in a divorce, the longer the process takes and the more expensive it becomes (think legal fees).
If you can file for an uncontested divorce in New Hampshire, the entire process will be much easier, quicker, and less expensive than a traditional contested divorce. But for a divorce to be truly uncontested, you and your spouse will have had to settle all of the issues involved in ending your marriage, including:
Once those issues are resolved, it's typical to incorporate the settlement terms in a marital settlement agreement, which can then become a part of your divorce judgment.
If there are any issues you can't agree on by the time you file the initial divorce papers, your case will proceed as a contested divorce. That doesn't mean you can't reach a settlement later on. In fact, most divorcing couples eventually settle their cases before they go to trial. But it can take time to get there, and it will usually involve additional expense (again, think lawyers' fees).
If you have a settlement agreement and a relatively uncomplicated case, you should be able to handle filing for divorce yourself. A do-it-yourself (DIY) divorce will be the cheapest route to ending your marriage. But you'll have to spend some time and and pay close attention to the details, to make sure you have all the right forms, have filled them out correctly, and have followed all of the steps and requirements for divorce in New Hampshire.
Short of having an attorney represent you in the divorce, there are other ways of getting help with the process. For example, you could do one or a combination of the following:
When couples still have disputes after filing for divorce, New Hampshire judges may order mediation if they believe it's warranted or if one of the spouses requests it. But judge may not order mediation if a court has found that there's been domestic violence in the marriage, unless the spouses agree to it. And judges may waive mediation for a number of other reasons, including when there are claims of serious psychological or emotional abuse. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 458:15-c (2023).)
Without an agreement, you'll follow the route of a traditional, contested divorce. Because that will almost certainly require hiring a lawyer—who will take care of the forms, filing, and all other legal matters during the divorce—the information outlined below is mainly focused on the filing process for folks who are handling their own divorce.
The New Hampshire Courts website provides instructions and downloadable forms you'll need for your divorce. If you're the one starting the divorce process, you'll fill out the forms as the "petitioner." Your spouse will be the "respondent." There are separate forms and instructions for marriages with and without children.
Even if you and your spouse haven't agreed about all of the issues in your divorce, you may file a joint divorce petition. That way, you won't have to formally serve the divorce papers (as discussed below). But if your spouse hasn't even agreed to get divorced, you'll have to file a regular divorce petition.
Either type of divorce petition gives the court information to ensure that you're eligible to file for divorce in New Hampshire. It also lets the court know what you're seeking in the divorce, such as child custody or alimony.
In addition to the petition, you'll need to fill out a personal data sheet, which includes information about you, your spouse, and any children you have together.
Once you've completed and signed the forms, you'll start the divorce process by filing the paperwork with the Family Division of the Circuit Court in the county where you or your spouse lives. New Hampshire has started implementing an electronic filing system, which will be mandatory for all court cases at some point. So check the court's website or contact the Family Court Clerk in the district where you're starting the divorce, to see whether you'll be required to file your divorce forms electronically.
Be prepared for the fact that the court charges fees for filing legal papers. As of 2023, the filing fees for divorce petitions in New Hampshire were $250 (or $252 with minor children). Court fees are always subject to change, so you may want to check with the family court clerk's office to verify the current amount, as well as the accepted methods of payment. If you can't afford to pay the fee, you can file a "Motion for Waiver of Filing Fee." If the court grants your request, you'll be exempt from paying any court fees during the divorce process.
If you've filed a joint petition, just make sure that both you and your spouse have copies of all the paperwork that you've filed. Otherwise, when you file the regular divorce petition, you'll need to pay an additional $25 to request "orders of notice." The court clerk may send your spouse a notice that the divorce petition has been filed, and that your spouse (or your spouse's attorney) may pick up the documents at the courthouse within 10 days. If your spouse hasn't retrieved the documents in that time, the clerk will send you the copy of the documents for your spouse. You must then serve your spouse with the divorce papers by either:
You'll then need to file the signed return receipt or proof of service with the court. If you can't find your spouse, check with the court clerk about alternative methods of service, such as by publishing a notice in a newspaper. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 458:9 (2023).)
After you've filed the divorce papers (and served them, if necessary), pay attention to the next steps needed to move your case along.
Respondent spouses who want to participate in their divorce cases must file an "Appearance" form within 15 days after they've received a copy of the divorce papers. Although they aren't required to do so, respondents may also file a response or a cross-petition, which basically means they're countersuing for divorce. (N.H. Circ. Ct. Rules, Fam. Div., rule 2.5 (A) (2023).) Without a response, the judge may simply enter a divorce judgment that includes anything requested in the petition.
In any divorce, New Hampshire requires the spouses to share extensive financial information. You and your spouse must complete financial affidavits, exchange them with each other, and file them with the court. Unless you both agree (or the court orders) otherwise, you must also exchange a number of supporting financial documents, including recent tax returns, earnings statements, bank and credit card statements, and documentation regarding assets, debts, and the cost and status of employer-provided health insurance. (N.H. Circ. Ct. Rules, Fam. Div., rule 1.25-A (2023).)
It's a good idea to gather as much of this information in advance as you can, because it's important for you to be as thorough as possible when completing the affidavit. You must be honest, because a spouse who fails to disclose all the requested information could face penalties, such as fines and possibly jail time.
If you have minor children, both you and your spouse must take a four-hour Child Impact Program soon after you file for divorce. (N.H. Circ. Ct. Rules, Fam. Div., rule 2.10 (2023).) The purpose of the seminar is to learn about the the effects of divorce on children and how you can help your kids adjust.
The amount of time it will take to finalize your divorce will mostly depend on whether your case is uncontested or contested. New Hampshire doesn't have a mandatory waiting period for divorce. So if you have an uncontested case, you should be able to get your final divorce fairly quickly. You might not even have to show up in court, if you and your spouse have signed a written waiver of your right to attend a final hearing. As long as all of your paperwork is in order, the judge may simply sign the final divorce decree. (N.H. Circ. Ct. Rules, Fam. Div., rule 2.22 (2023).)
If your case is contested, the process will take longer. How much longer depends on whether you're able to settle all of your disputes at some point during the process—usually through your lawyers. If there are any unresolved issues, you'll have to go to trial in your divorce to have a judge will make a decision on those issues. This is by far the longest and costliest route to obtaining your divorce judgment, and can take up to a year or more.
Also, be aware that at some point during the divorce process, your case might be put on hold if the judge believes there's a reasonable possibility that you and your spouse can reconcile. In that case, the judge may order both of you to attend marriage counseling. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 458:7-b (2023).)