How Domestic Violence Affects Child Custody in New Hampshire

Learn about domestic violence and how it impacts child custody decisions in New Hampshire.

Like a natural disaster, the legacy of domestic violence is purely destructive, amounting to a lifetime of painful memories for victims. There are also legal consequences, because domestic violence affects child custody orders.

This article will explain what domestic violence is and how it affects child custody in New Hampshire. If you have any questions after you read this article, consult with a family law attorney for advice.

Domestic Violence Overview

New Hampshire has a broad definition of domestic violence, which includes all of the following acts:

  • assault or reckless conduct
  • criminal threats
  • sexual assault
  • “interference with freedom” (restraining people against their will)
  • destruction of property
  • unauthorized entry into a home or other place where the perpetrator wasn’t invited, and
  • harassment.

These actions are frequently crimes in and of themselves, but they also constitute domestic violence if they are committed against an “intimate partner” or a “family or household member.” Intimate partners are people who are currently or were formerly involved in a romantic relationship, regardless of whether the relationship resulted in sexual contact. Family and household members include:

  • current and former spouses
  • people who live together or formerly lived together
  • people who are the parents of a child together, and
  • people who are related by blood or marriage

If you’re a victim of domestic violence, you can go to court and ask for a domestic abuse protection order. For more information, see the domestic violence section of this page from the New Hampshire Bar Association.

Community Resources

If you’ve been victimized by domestic abuse, you’re not alone. New Hampshire has a variety of groups that have mobilized to provide direct services, information, and legal aid to victims of domestic violence.

MCVP (Monadnock Center for Violence Prevention) provides emergency shelter, counseling, medical and legal advocacy, and other services, all of which are available by calling the 24 hour hotline at 1-888-511-6287. Bridges offers similar services; its phone number is 1-603-883-3044 and it accepts collect calls. The New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence has a 24 hour hotline at 1-866-644-3574 and it can connect victims to helpful resources. A Safe Place has a comprehensive listing of statewide services, and the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services’ Domestic Violence Specialists manage a program that offers state agency support for victims.

Finally, victims can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800799-7233. It’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Domestic Abuse and Child Custody

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of custody: legal and physical. Legal custody is a parent’s right to help make decisions about important matters in a child’s life, like education, culture, and health. Physical custody refers to where a child lives and receives basic care, like feeding and bathing. Both kinds of custody can be joint (shared) or sole (only given to one parent).

New Hampshire’s Statement of Purpose about parental rights and responsibilities provides that both parents should be encouraged to be involved in their children’s lives unless the involvement is detrimental. It encourages parents to develop their own parenting plans (which are proposals for custody and visitation) except when there is evidence of domestic violence, child abuse, or neglect—in which case the court will make up its own parenting plan. Therefore, New Hampshire does take domestic violence into account in custody cases.

In every custody matter, judges have to consider 12 factors to determine the best interests of a child. For more information about how courts generally make these decisions, see Child Custody in New Hampshire: The Best Interests of the Child. Four of the factors have a direct bearing on domestic violence:

  • the ability and willingness of each parent to foster a positive relationship and frequent contact with the other parent, including whether that contact is likely to result in harm to the child or a parent
  • the support of each parent for the child’s relationship with the other parent, including whether that contact is likely to result in harm to the child or a parent
  • the ability of the parents to communicate, cooperate with each other, and make joint decisions for the children, including whether the contact is likely to result in harm to the child or a parent, and
  • any history of abuse and the impact it had on the child and the child’s relationship with the abusive parent.

Ordinarily, the court assumes that it’s in the best interest of children for parents to have joint custody. But if the court finds evidence of domestic abuse, it assumes the abuse is harmful to children and its priorities immediately shift. The judge will then issue an order that divides the parenting rights in a way that protects the children and the abused parent.

If the judge finds there’s evidence of domestic abuse or stalking, the court’s final parenting plan order can’t reveal the address of the other parent.

Impact on Visitation

If the court finds that an abusive parent perpetrated acts of domestic violence, it must fashion a visitation order that keeps both the victimized parent and the child safe. Judges will strive to minimize or eliminate the two parents from being in contact while simultaneously mending the relationship between the abusive parent and the child. To that end, court orders might require:

  • supervised visitation by a responsible adult in the home of family members or friends
  • supervised visitation in one of New Hampshire’s Visitation Centers
  • supervised visitation exchanges
  • successful completion of coursework and counseling in domestic abuse prevention, parenting, and substance abuse (if applicable)
  • appointment of a Guardian ad Litem to investigate the case and act as a watchdog for the safety of the child, and
  • any other measure that heals the relationship between the child and the abusive parent and keeps everyone safe.

Eventually, if the abusive parent cooperates and complies with the court order, the judge may order a transition to unsupervised visitation. Whether and when this happens depends on the unique facts of each case.

Termination of Parental Rights

Termination of parental rights (“TPR”) can be ordered when a parent has abandoned, neglected, or badly abused a child, or when the parent has become unfit. TPR means that a parent loses all rights, both physical and legal, to a child.

TPR is permanent and once a parent’s rights are terminated, they can never be regained. Because TPR is such a serious remedy, judges rarely use it except for the most serious and extreme of cases.

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