Four Things You Need to Know About New Hampshire Child Custody Law

Child custody

If you’re fighting for child custody in New Hampshire, the first thing you need to know is that it is not called “custody” anymore. The new term is “parental rights and responsibilities.” Familiarizing yourself with parenting laws can help prepare you for this process.

Please consider this information to be introductory, as every situation is different. You should always consider consulting with an attorney about the specific details of your case.

The Best Interests of the Child

New Hampshire courts are guided first and foremost by the best interests of the child. How are the child’s best interests determined? By considering various factors, including the ability of each parent to:

  • Nurture - Provide the child with love, affection, and guidance.
  • Assure a safe environment - Give the child enough food, clothing, shelter, and medical care
  • Meet developmental needs - Both in the present and future.

The full list of factors the court considers is extensive, covering topics such as incarceration of a parent, abuse and potential for abuse, and the quality of the child’s adjustment in school and the community. A knowledgeable attorney can assess your personal circumstances and how they’ll be interpreted by the court.


New Hampshire law starts with the assumption that, “children do best when both parents have a stable and meaningful involvement in their lives.” For this reason, the state will seek an arrangement where the child receives frequent contact from both parents, even after they divorce or separate. The parents are expected, with help from lawyers or mediators, to develop a parenting plan they can both live with.

If the court finds that shared parental rights and responsibilities would be detrimental to a child, a different arrangement might be made where one parent has a larger share of the rights and responsibilities of raising the child. This can happen when there is evidence of domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, or other factors that make a shared custody arrangement not in the best interests of the child.

Decision Making Responsibility vs. Residential Responsibility

Part of developing a parenting plan involves coming to agreements about decision making responsibility and residential responsibility of the parents. The differences between those responsibilities are important.

Decision Making Responsibility: The right and responsibility to make legal decisions about matters affecting the child such as education, healthcare, and religion. Legal custody also includes the right to access school and medical records.

Residential Responsibility: Where and with whom the child will live.

New Hampshire courts will generally grant joint decision making responsibility if the parents agree it’s the best arrangement or if one parent requests it and there is no reason to deny it. Joint decision making responsibility may be denied if the court feels it’s not in the child’s best interest.

Residential responsibility is commonly split and many times the parents can agree on relative equal amounts of parenting time. In a few instances, the child may be ordered to solely reside with one parent. The middle ground between these options is where a child resides primarily with one parent and the other parent has a limited amount of parenting time.

Child Support

New Hampshire’s child support guidelines were written to establish “a uniform system to be used in the determination of the amount of child support, to minimize the economic consequences to children, and to comply with applicable federal law.” A parent paying child support is called an “Obligor” and a parent receiving child support is called an “Obligee.” The guidelines are based on three key principles: 

  1. Both parents share the responsibility of economically supporting their children.
  2. Children of an obligor are entitled to the same standard of living as the obligor’s subsequent families.
  3. The percentage of net income paid for child support varies according to number of children and income level.

The New Hampshire Bar Association outlines the state’s child support guidelines in detail here. This documentation is comprehensive, so if you have trouble understanding how and why child support payments are calculated, a family lawyer can help. Remember to consult one if you have any questions. 


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