Grounds for Divorce in New Hampshire

Divorce doesn't have to be a fight to the death. In fact, depending on your actions at the beginning of the legal process, ending your marriage may be easier than you think. Learn about New Hampshire's no-fault divorce procedures.

By , Attorney

It's true that divorcing couples can sometimes turn the legal process into a battle for the heavyweight title belt. But, depending on how you handle your divorce, including your reasons for asking the court to terminate your marriage, your actions can set the tone of the entire process from the start.

I Want a Divorce, But Does It Matter Why?

Yes. In New Hampshire, and every court in the United States, before a judge can terminate your marriage, the law requires you to identify a legal ground (reason) for your divorce. When you complete your initial paperwork, you will have to list the specific reason for your request.

Some states allow parties to pursue a fault divorce, where you claim that your spouse's actions throughout the marriage were significant enough to cause your marriage to fail. What you consider to be significant may be different than what your state allows for fault divorce, but the most common grounds include desertion, adultery, and cruelty.

All states allow spouses to pursue a no-fault divorce, meaning neither spouse is responsible for the breakup. Most no-fault divorces are based on irreconcilable differences, meaning that your marriage is so severely damaged that there's no chance you and your spouse can reconcile. No-fault divorce is a popular concept because couples can get a divorce without sharing the intimate details of why their marriage failed, which can protect spouses from the shame, embarrassment, and anger that usually comes with a contentious divorce. Another form of no-fault divorce offered in some states is a separation for a certain amount of time.

No-Fault Divorce in New Hampshire

Residents in the "live free or die" state can request a divorce by using the state's no-fault procedures. For a no-fault divorce to be successful, at least one spouse will need to explain to the court that the relationship has suffered irreconcilable differences. Irreconcilable differences mean that you and your spouse can no longer continue living as a married couple, it's neither spouse's fault, and there's nothing either of you can do to repair the damaged relationship. While it may seem advantageous to tell the court that your failed marriage is your spouse's fault, the no-fault divorce process saves you from the emotional roller coaster that comes with pointing fingers and blaming your spouse for your relationship woes.

In addition to telling the court about the state of your marriage, you'll need to meet New Hampshire's residency requirements. Before you can file for divorce, you will need to demonstrate any of the following:

  • both spouses live in New Hampshire
  • the petitioner (the spouse who initiates the divorce paperwork) has been a resident of the state for at least one year, or
  • the petitioner has lived in the state for less than a year, but can serve the divorce papers on the respondent (the other spouse) in the state of New Hampshire.

If you can't meet at least one of the residency requirements, you will need to file for divorce in the state where you reside at the time of your request.

Marital Misconduct and Fault Divorce

If filing for a no-fault divorce doesn't seem like the right legal process for you, couples have the option to file for divorce based on a spouse's marital misconduct. This type of legal procedure, though available, is not a popular option because it requires a higher burden of proof, meaning the spouse alleging misconduct needs to provide the judge with evidence of the wrongdoing, and then prove it caused your breakup.

Like no-fault divorce, you need to identify the legal grounds for your request. New Hampshire only allows fault divorce based on the following:

  • impotence at the time of the marriage
  • adultery by either party
  • extreme cruelty by one spouse to the other
  • conviction of a crime punishable by more than one year in prison
  • when either spouse has treated the other in a way that seriously injures the health of, or endangers the other spouse's life
  • if either spouse has been absent for at least two years, with no communication
  • when either party is a habitual alcoholic for a minimum of two years during the marriage
  • if either spouse joins a religion that believes the marriage is unlawful and refuses to cohabitate with the other for at least six months, or
  • when either spouse, without reason or the other's consent, abandoned the marriage and refused to live with the other spouse for at least two years.

Proving Fault Divorce Is Difficult

In addition to meeting the state's residency requirement (like no-fault divorce), you will need to take additional steps if you pursue a fault divorce in New Hampshire. It's not enough to tell the court that your failed marriage is your spouse's fault. Instead, you'll need to:

  • allege at least one of the above legally accepted grounds
  • show that your spouse committed the act you are claiming, and
  • confirm that the action caused your marriage to fail.

You need to provide evidence that your spouse committed the misconduct, and that the cause of your breakup was explicitly due to the alleged misconduct. If you can't convince the court, the judge will dismiss your case, and you will need to start over using the state's no-fault grounds or a different ground for a fault divorce.

For example, in one New Hampshire case, a husband filed for divorce alleging that the marriage failed because his wife was convicted of a crime and jailed for at least one year. Although he could provide proof that his wife spent over a year in prison, he couldn't prove that his wife's trip to jail was the reason for the breakup. The court denied his request for a fault divorce after the wife introduced evidence that, during her incarceration, the husband visited her, sent cards, and provided her with financial support. In this case, the husband needed to refile divorce papers using the no-fault steps or allege a different fault reason. Had he started with irreconcilable differences, he would have saved time and money.

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