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New Hampshire Divorce Process
Preparing the Divorce Papers
When both spouses agree to divorce, they can use the joint petition.
The spouses not need a final agreement on the entire divorce; they just need to agree to start the process.
Both sign the joint petition before a notary public or justice of the peace. The form lists the petitioner as the first spouse and the respondent as the second. For example, if John and Rhonda are completing a joint petition, and John lists his name first and is now the petitioner. Rhonda is the respondent. The position does not affect the outcome of the case.
The second way to start a divorce is to file an individual petition for divorce. The spouse starting the divorce is called the petitioner. The other spouse is the respondent.
Filing the Paperwork with the Court
Once the forms are completed and signed, the plaintiff can either mail in or bring to the court the original petition and two copies, the personal data sheet, and the filing fee.
The petitioner can file the petition in the court that covers the town where either spouse lives.
Serving the Documents
Service of process means delivery of the divorce papers to the respondent. When the court receives the individual petition, the court clerk’s office sends the respondent a letter saying that the divorce has been filed. The respondent can pick up a copy of the divorce petition at the court.
If the respondent does not pick up the papers, the court clerk sends the petitioner two copies of the divorce, both of which have the court’s embedded seal. One copy is the service copy; the other, the return copy.
The petitioner may serve the defendant in one of two ways:
Disclosing Financial Information
The New Hampshire court system has enacted a rule mandating that each party exchange detailed financial information early on in New Hampshire divorce cases.
Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce
Among the divorce papers that the respondent receives is an Appearance form. The respondent should complete the appearance form, mail the original to the court and mail a copy to the spouse. Absent an appearance, the court assumes the respondent does not want to participate in the divorce. The court may make decisions about property, children, child support and alimony without the respondent’s input.
An Answer is a response to the divorce petition. Filing an Answer is not required, but if the respondent disagrees with any statements in the divorce petition, he or she writes an answer and mails it to the court with a copy to the plaintiff.
In the Answer, the respondent may contest the allegations in the complaint, and if he or she wants the judge to make favorable decisions regarding issues like child support, parenting rights or alimony, he or she completes an Answer.
The respondent must type or neatly print up his or her answer and so label it Answer. It must clearly state what the respondent does not agree with.
When there are minor children, the court requires both spouses to attend what is termed a “first appearance.” In this meeting, the judge addresses the parties who have recently begun a divorce. The judge discusses the court mediation program. The couple has a chance to sign up for mediation. If either spouse doesn’t want mediation, the clerk schedules a case manager meeting. The case manager guides self-representing couples through the action.
If there are no minor children in the divorce, and at least one spouse is self-represented, the couple is assigned a case manager and given the option of mediation.
Finalizing the Divorce
The first appearance is normally within 30 days of the filing, and the spouses normally receive the final decree within 30 days after the first appearance.
New Hampshire prefers the parents resolve custody and visitation issues. The court will listen to the parents' wishes. However, if no agreement can be made, there is evidence of abuse, or a parent appears unable to care for their child, the state will intervene to find the best option for the minor child's well being.
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