The fact that parents have a fundamental right to their children is one of the most well-established principles in the constitution. Custody disputes are often emotionally draining and stressful. Usually, each parent will want what is best for the child but will disagree on what custody arrangement will be in the child’s best interest. It is important to seek legal advice prior to signing any documents related to a custody because once signed and approved by the court, the custody arrangement is often difficult, but not impossible, to change.
In New Hampshire, custody is broken down into two categories, “decision-making” authority and “residential responsibility.” “Decision-making” refers to the parents’ rights to share in major decisions regarding the child’s education, religion and medical care. “Residential responsibility” refers to where the child will live. Custody is more commonly referred to as “parenting time”. The document that outlines the custody arrangement is called a “parenting plan.”
The laws regarding custody are contained in New Hampshire Statutes RSA 461-A, the Chapter of Parental Rights and Responsibility. Absent certain factors, such as abuse or child endangerment, New Hampshire law favors parenting plans that award equal or approximately equal parenting time between the parents. The age of the child is a big factor in drafting a parenting schedule. For example, a younger child may not tolerate the same number of transitions that a teenager may be able to handle
The purpose of the parenting plan is to encourage the parents to share in the raising of their child(ren) and to grant parents wide discretion in adopting their own parenting plans. To promote this goal, the court will order a mediation in all cases involving minor children prior to scheduling a court date. A court-appointed mediation occurs in the courthouse. A mediator is a third-party neutral who will try to facilitate an agreement between the parents. A mediator is sometimes not an attorney and can never give legal advice. For this reason, it is often wise to have an attorney present at the mediation to represent your interest and help negotiate a favorable parenting plan.
In some cases, a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) is appointed by the court to make recommendations. A GAL does not legally represent the child but is charged with making recommendations to the court that are in the child’s best interest. The GAL will conduct an investigation into your case. The court can, but is not required to, adopt a GAL’s recommendation.