In New Hampshire, child custody is called “residential responsibility” and visitation is called “parenting time.” The change in terminology is meant to emphasize shared responsibility over the welfare of a child, as opposed to each parent maximizing his/her time with the child at the expense of the other.
In addition to emphasizing shared responsibility, the state acknowledges that parents are better than NH courts at making decisions for children. Consequently, it gives parents wide latitude to jointly develop a plan for raising their child without court interference.
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Parenting Plan in Child Custody/Visitation Cases
In New Hampshire, this plan is called a “parenting plan”, and it is required to be filed in every divorce case involving a minor child. In addition to residential responsibility and parenting time, the parenting plan includes provisions which cover all aspects of a child’s upbringing. The best practice is for each party to complete a parenting plan so that any disputes can be quickly highlighted.
If the divorcing parents agree on a plan, it is filed jointly and will likely be approved by the family division court.
Best Interests Test in Child Custody/Visitation Cases
However, many times parents cannot agree on child custody and each must then file a separate plan. In these instances, the court reviews the competing plans and decides residential responsibility and parenting time by determining what is in the child’s “best interests.”
The factors the court uses in determining “best interests” are listed in the applicable New Hampshire statute. Many of the factors are obvious and relate directly to a parent’s ability to provide the child with a safe, healthy and stable environment.
However, several factors involve how the parents interact with eachother in relation to the child. A parent who cannot disentangle the child’s upbringing from his/her hostility towards the other parent is likely to spend less time with his/her child as a result.
The court will also consider the preference of the child if the child is of sufficient maturity to make a sound judgment. There is no age at which a child is considered to automatically possess sufficient maturity.
Step-Parent and Grandparent Visitation
In the process of determining residential responsibility and parenting time, the court can also grant reasonable visitation to grandparents and stepparents.