Getting divorced can be an extremely stressful and emotional time. But if you can put your head before your heart and talk sensibly with your spouse, you might be able to get an "uncontested divorce" which 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, an uncontested divorce means that you and your spouse agree on all the critical issues, like property division, allocation of debts, child custody, parenting time (visitation), alimony (spousal support), 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.
New Hampshire is a little bit different from other states when it comes to an uncontested divorce. The easiest way to get your uncontested divorce on the fast track is to file a joint petition for divorce—meaning 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. It's best if you can reach a total agreement, but if you can't, the joint petition will tell the court what issues you and your spouse agree on and those that you don't. 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 your divorce. In New Hampshire, divorcing couples have several options for divorcing filings. If you'd like to keep the legal process simple and you both agree that neither of you is at fault for the breakup, you can tell the court that you want a divorce because there are irreconcilable differences between you and your spouse. The court recognizes irreconcilable difference as "no fault," so 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. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 458:7-a.)
Alternatively, you can tell the court that you want a divorce because of your spouse's marital wrongdoing (fault divorce), 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. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 458:7.)
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. The court assigns locations based on 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 bring your documents to the wrong place, the court could toss out or transfer your case, 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.
You can find the necessary forms to complete your divorce online or through the clerk of court at your courthouse. 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 you've completed it, both spouses must 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, which saves a significant amount of time and money. (N.H. Rev. Stat. 458:9)
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 will submit to the court. It's important to understand that you must 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 the judge decides the remaining issues.
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 will finalize your divorce.
New Hampshire Statutes, Chapter 458 (Divorce)