NH Divorce FAQ

1. What is the most important decision in a divorce?

2. How are the divorce issues decided?

3. How can I find out which decision-making option would be best for my situation?

4. Once I’ve selected a decision-making method, is the next step to file for divorce?

5. My spouse refuses to give a divorce – what are my options?

6. My spouse wants a divorce, but I don’t. What steps should I take to protect myself?

7. How is custody decided in New Hampshire?

8. Why did New Hampshire eliminate “custody”?

9. What is the difference between a divorce and a legal separation?

10. What is the difference between an uncontested and a contested divorce?

11. How long does it take to get a divorce in New Hampshire?

12. What are the grounds for divorce in New Hampshire?

13. Can I get a divorce without a lawyer?

14. Won’t a lawyer turn our divorce into a battleground?

15. Why should I have a lawyer representing me during my divorce?

16. We are using mediation to make decisions. Why would I need a lawyer?

17. How much does a divorce cost?

18. How do lawyers charge for divorces?

19. How can I find out about my legal costs before I hire a lawyer?

20. What are the factors I should consider in deciding on who to hire as my lawyer?

21. How can I find a lawyer to represent me in a divorce?

22. What is the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers?


1. What is the most important decision in a divorce?

The methods you choose to make all the other decisions. The options are:

  • Informal decision-making
  • Mediation
  • Collaborative practice
  • Negotiation between lawyers
  • Court Litigation

See question 2 for more information on these methods. The first 3 options, or a combination of them, are the best preparation for co-parenting in the future. They also keep the costs down, and usually take less time. However, they require that the spouses agree on the method.

2. How are the divorce issues decided?

There are 5 ways of making decisions:

  • Informal Decision-Making – You and your spouse reach agreement through informal discussions.
  • Mediation – With the help of a trained mediator, you and your spouse resolve the issues.
  • Collaborative Practice – You and your spouse work with a neutral professional and a coach to prepare for negotiations. The negotiations are held with both lawyers and both clients present, to address and resolve all divorce issues.
  • Negotiation between Lawyers – Each of you hires a lawyer. Discussions and correspondence between the lawyers result in an agreement.
  • Court Litigation – If informal discussion, mediation, collaborative practice, and negotiation do not settle all divorce issues between you and your spouse, the master or judge will make the decisions, after a contested hearing.

Some couples use a combination of 2 or more of the methods. For example, parenting issues decided through discussion or mediation, property division by collaborative law or negotiation through their lawyers, leaving support for the court to decide.

3. How can I find out which decision-making option would be best for my situation?

Start with some preliminary review of the options, then meet with an experienced family lawyer who can advise you which methods might work for you.

4. Once I’ve selected a decision-making method, is the next step to file for divorce?

Not necessarily. Many couples choose to work out all the divorce issues before filing. Agree first, then file, is required with Collaborative Practice, and is used by most couples in mediation. However, here are some reasons to file for divorce as soon as possible:

  • You fear for your safety.
  • You need financial support and your spouse refuses to pay.
  • Your spouse prevents your having time with the children.
  • You can’t afford private mediation and wish the court to order it.

Get legal advice about the right time to file.

5. My spouse refuses to give a divorce – what are my options?

In New Hampshire, you may get a divorce without your spouse’s agreement or cooperation. It is sufficient that one spouse wants a divorce. However, the divorce process usually takes longer in this situation.

6. My spouse wants a divorce, but I don’t. What steps should I take to protect myself?

Closing your eyes while sitting on the tracks, will not stop an on-coming train. Trying to ignore a possible divorce case is just as dangerous. Talk to a lawyer as soon as possible to find out your options. Until you talk to a lawyer:

  • Avoid making decisions with long-term consequences.
  • Don’t try to reach a settlement with your spouse.
  • Unless there is a risk of violence or child-snatching, don’t move out.

Consider talking to a counselor or therapist for help in dealing with the emotional part of a divorce.

7. How is custody decided in New Hampshire?

The concept of “custody” was eliminated in New Hampshire in 2005. Instead, a detailed Parenting Plan spells out each parent’s rights and responsibilities for the children.

8. Why did New Hampshire eliminate “custody”?

New Hampshire’s public policy is that most children do better if they have regular and frequent contact with both parents. The traditional approach of a “custodial parent” and a non-custodial (visiting) parent is inconsistent with that public policy. Also, being in “custody” is the way we refer to someone held by the police. It implies a sense of complete control over another that is inappropriate in referring to parents and children.

9. What is the difference between a divorce and a legal separation?

These 2 legal products are the same in many ways – the time they take, the filing costs and legal fees, and the issues dealt with (parenting, support, property division). But there are differences. In a legal separation, the parties remain married, they may resume the marital relationship, and the wife may not resume her maiden name.

10. What is the difference between an uncontested and a
contested divorce?

An uncontested divorce is one where the spouses agree on all the issues – the grounds for divorce, parenting arrangements, support and alimony, and property division. In a contested divorce, one or more of these issues are disputed. In New Hampshire, over 90% of divorces end up uncontested.

11. How long does it take to get a divorce in New Hampshire?

The key factor is how long it takes to resolve the many issues in a divorce. Once this happens, the court grants the divorce in 2-8 weeks. Divorce using mediation or Collaborative Practice often takes 2-4 months from starting the process. Some divorces take 6-12 months from filing court papers to the effective date of the divorce because of difficulty in resolving one or more issues. Cases resolved in the minimum times usually involve parties either with short marriages or who have been living apart for a year or more, or those using Collaborative Practice or Mediation. If parenting or other major issues are disputed, the case may take 2-3 years, or even longer.

12. What are the grounds for divorce in New Hampshire?

“Grounds” are the legal basis for the divorce. In New Hampshire, approximately 99% of divorces are “no-fault,” that is, based on “irreconcilable differences that have caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage.” You may also file for divorce on fault grounds – including extreme cruelty (domestic violence), adultery, conduct that endangered health or reason, drunkenness for 2 years, and even your spouse joining the Shakers. (Because of the harm to children, and increase in adversarialness I do not handle fault ground cases.)

13. Can I get a divorce without a lawyer?

You may file for divorce without a lawyer, or, if your spouse files, represent yourself without a lawyer. It is not recommended, unless your marriage has been short, childless, and with few marital assets. Another test is whether you feel comfortable handling the court paperwork and procedures by yourself. For an idea on the paperwork required for a divorce, see the court’s Self-Help Center.

14. Won’t a lawyer turn our divorce into a battleground?

If you and your spouse want to work out your divorce issues, select lawyers who support that goal. Consider Collaborative Practice, in which the lawyers commit to working cooperatively with each other and staying out of court.

15. Why should I have a lawyer working with me during my divorce?

Because a divorce involves substantial rights and responsibilities, many legal technicalities, and your well being (and your children’s) for years into the future.

Most divorces are similar to the breakup of a business partnership, plus they include the unique issue of dividing the parenting and companionship of the children. All this, while undergoing the second most stressful event an adult can face. (The first is death of a loved one.)

16. We are using mediation to make decisions. Why would I need a lawyer?

Mediation does not provide legal advice (how to apply the law to your individual situation). Before negotiating the terms of your divorce, you should meet with a lawyer for legal advice. Some folks using mediation consult with their lawyer in between mediation sessions, to get on-going advice. Once the mediation is complete, it is essential to have your lawyer review the agreement. He/She can spot legal problems and issues that were not included in the agreement.

17. How much does a divorce cost?

The filing fee is less than $300. See the Court website for the current amount. Legal fees can vary substantially, depending on how much lawyering you need and your lawyer’s hourly rate. Your choice of decision-making methods makes a difference (See Question #4 above). If your case is simple (no children, house, or pension) and all issues worked out before you hire the lawyer, you might find a lawyer who would do it for about $1,000. In most of my cases, the total fees are between $2,000-$6,000. Litigation is the most expensive method. If you have a parenting fight or major dispute over another issue, your legal fees could easily be $15,000 to $30,000 (or $50,000). High asset cases can cost more.

18. How do lawyers charge for divorces?

Most lawyers charge an hourly rate for their time. Many lawyers charge $180-$250 an hour. Some members of the divorce bar charge over $250 an hour. Generally, fees are higher in cities and at major law firms.

Lawyers generally require a substantial deposit or retainer at the beginning of the case. Depending on the issues in your case and the lawyer’s hourly rate, this may be $500, $3,000, $15,000 or more, or something in between.

19. How can I find out about my legal costs before I hire a lawyer?

You may be able to find some information about hourly rates and retainers by phone. For specifics that would apply to your case, the lawyer will need more information about you and your family situation. Plan to interview 2 or 3 lawyers. During the interview, if the lawyer doesn’t mention fees, ask him or her about hourly rate, retainers, and projected total costs.

20. What are the factors I should consider in deciding on who to hire as my lawyer?

There are several important factors:

  • Your lawyer should be knowledgeable about family law, including any special issues or factors in your case.
  • Your lawyer must be a person with whom you feel comfortable discussing sensitive, intimate issues.
  • You and your lawyer must agree on the basic approach to take in your case.
  • You must be able to meet the lawyer’s financial requirements.
21. How can I find a lawyer to represent me in a divorce?

Referrals from another professional, such as your financial planner, therapist, or religious advisor are an excellent way of finding a lawyer. Your business, real estate, or estate planning lawyer can suggest a family law specialist. If you are considering Collaborative Practice, talk to a lawyer who offers that service. Alternatively, you can ask friends or colleagues who have been through a divorce whether they would recommend their lawyers. If you get names of several lawyers, consider interviewing at least 2 before making your selection.

22. What is the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers?

The AAML is an organization of about 1400 top divorce lawyers across the United States. To qualify, an applicant must devote at least 50% of his or her practice to family law, have litigated a substantial number of such cases, and pass an examination on the federal aspects of divorce. To find the AAML Fellows in New Hampshire, click here.