Getting divorced can be an extremely stressful and emotional time. But if you're getting divorced in New Hampshire and can come to an agreement with your spouse about all the issues in your divorce, you might be able to get an "uncontested divorce." An uncontested divorce is much faster and cheaper than traditional divorce—spouses can often use a DIY solution like an online divorce service. They do, though, also have the option of getting professional help.
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. If you don't agree on all the issues, then your case is contested, and it will proceed to trial.
In New Hampshire, 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. New Hampshire's joint filing process differs from others' in that you can file a joint petition even when 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 file for divorce in New Hampshire only when you meet the residency requirements. At least one of the three following statements has to be true:
(N.H. Rev. Stat. § 458:5 (2021).)
You also have to give the court a legal reason ("grounds") to grant your divorce. In New Hampshire, divorcing couples have several options for how to file for divorce. When 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 due to irreconcilable differences between you and your spouse. The court recognizes irreconcilable difference as "no fault" basis for divorce, so you won't have to air any dirty laundry in court. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 458:7-a (2021).)
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, when you choose to pursue a divorce based on one of these fault-based grounds, it increases the chances that your spouse will dispute your claims (which will prevent you from proceeding with an uncontested divorce). (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 458:7 (2021).)
Before you begin your paperwork, you'll need to understand how the New Hampshire court system works.
The entry-level trial court in New Hampshire is called the circuit court. The New Hampshire Circuit Court's Family Division—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 file your documents in the wrong court, the court could toss out or transfer your case, and you might have to start over. You can find out where to file your case here.
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 understand that they cannot give you legal advice. You might be able to find answers to some of your questions through the New Hampshire Judicial Branch: Circuit Court Family Division website, in directions included with New Hampshire's official divorce forms, or by using one of New Hampshire Legal Aid's divorce guides.
To start a joint petition for divorce, both spouses must complete the joint petition and have their signatures notarized. 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 Motion to Waive Filing Fees form, in which you'll provide financial information the court will use to assess whether you qualify for a fee waiver. If a judge agrees that you're indigent (below the poverty line), the judge will sign an order eliminating all fees in your case.
One of the best benefits of the joint petition for divorce is that it spares you from having to serve papers on anyone, saving you a significant amount of time and money. (N.H. Rev. Stat. § 458:9 (2021).)
If you and your spouse have children together, at some point after you file the joint petition, you have to attend a child impact 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. You must finish the seminar before the final hearing—if you don't take the seminar, the court can sanction (punish) you.
If you are not in total agreement with your spouse when you file your joint petition, you can request a temporary hearing. 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 finalize your divorce.