Dreading divorce court? Many spouses are unaware that simpler and less expensive options are available. One of these options is the uncontested divorce. In an uncontested divorce, the divorcing spouses set the terms of the divorce on their own with only minimal input from a court or judge.
This article will explain the nature of an uncontested divorce and New Hampshire uncontested divorce law. If you still have any questions after reading this article or would like to file for an uncontested divorce, you should consult with an experienced divorce attorney.
Uncontested Divorce in New Hampshire Defined
Like many states, New Hampshire has recognized the value of allowing spouses to seek simple, less expensive divorces where neither spouse contests any issue in the case. That is why New Hampshire created a separate mechanism for its citizens to seek uncontested divorces. This process is known as a joint uncontested divorce petition.1
Spouses seeking to file joint, uncontested divorce petitions must be in agreement on all of the issues in the divorce prior to filing. Unlike regular divorces, the process for New Hampshire uncontested divorces is a joint filing process. Instead of one spouse preparing divorce paperwork and serving the other spouse, both spouses go to the courthouse together to jointly file for divorce. Not only does this process cut out excess paperwork, but it also speeds up the divorce process dramatically.
Requirements for Seeking a New Hampshire Uncontested Divorce
To file for uncontested divorce in New Hampshire, the filing spouses must meet certain requirements. Any questions about these requirements can be answered by an experienced New Hampshire divorce attorney or family lawyer.
The first requirement for seeking an uncontested divorce in New Hampshire is the New Hampshire divorce residence requirement.Prior to filing for divorce, both spouses making a joint filing must have had “domicile” within the state for at least one year.2 Domicile is defined as continuous residence with an intent to remain New Hampshire citizens for the foreseeable future. If both spouses are not currently domiciled in New Hampshire, either spouse meeting the residence requirement may still file for an uncontested divorce, but it will not be a joint filing.3
The next requirement for seeking a New Hampshire uncontested divorce is proving that sufficient grounds exists to grant a divorce. New Hampshire technically has nine at-fault grounds for divorce, but 99% of NH divorces (even contested divorces) are based on the no-fault ground of irreconcilable differences.4 In determining whether irreconcilable differences exist, the court will ask: "Has the marriage broken down beyond any reasonable hope of repair?"5
Finally, the spouses need to agree on all of the issues relevant to the divorce. The simplest way to satisfy this requirement is to create a legally-binding marital separation agreement. These types of divorce contracts are discussed below.
On Spousal Support and Separation Agreements
When spouses sit down to discuss the terms of their divorce, it is often beneficial for the spouses to sign a legal separation agreement. A separation agreement is NOT a formal divorce. A separation agreement is a contract between spouses that lays out their agreement and terms of their separation. A fully completed separation agreement can serve as the basis for an uncontested divorce, and may be helpful in filling out the required divorce paperwork. Prior to signing any separation agreement (or any contract with your spouse), you should have an experienced attorney review the terms of the contract for you.
A fully complete separation agreement should address each of the following issues relevant to the divorce:
- Spousal support (also known as alimony);
- Distribution of marital property (including the marital residence);
- Division of marital debts;
- Payment of attorneys’ fees and court costs; and
- If applicable, child custody, visitation rights, and child support
Couples with children seeking an uncontested divorce in New Hampshire may suggest the amount of child support in their separation agreement, but the couple must also file child support guidelines.6 Failure to file child support guidelines will result in the judge having to rule on child support separately, which could result in your divorce becoming contested on that issue.
The Process for Filing for an Uncontested Divorce in New Hampshire
Once you and your spouse have decided to file for an uncontested divorce, the general flow of the process is follows:
- This step is optional, but you should begin by consulting a family law attorney who can either answer any questions that you may have, or who can help you file your divorce paperwork properly.
- Next, you and your spouse should prepare a joint divorce petition and a separation agreement. For spouses seeking to file for divorce without the assistance of counsel, sample divorce forms can be found on the New Hampshire Judicial Branch’s website.7
- Once the paperwork has been completed, you and your spouse will need to determine which family court is appropriate for the filing of your joint petition. You must file in the office of the clerk of the circuit court family court division in the county in which the petitioner satisfies the residency requirement.
- You and your spouse should then file the joint divorce petition along with a copy of the separation agreement, financial affidavits from both spouses, and the filing fee, which may be waived for indigent litigants. Once joint petition is filed, no additional service is needed.
- Set a final hearing date with the court using the Court’s Self-Scheduling Procedure Form. Spouses may waive their right to be present at an uncontested joint divorce filing hearing, if done so in writing. If waived, no attendance required and the judge will mail the final divorce decree. Otherwise, attend the final hearing and judge will grant the divorce.
If you require any additional information about divorce in New Hampshire, you can visit the New Hampshire Judicial Branch’s website. The website also has a guide to help prose litigants (people going to court without the help of an attorney) navigate the court system.
Note: This article is not legal advice. Please consult a lawyer for your specific situation.
- See Circuit Court Family Division Rule 2.4A.
- RSA 458:5.
- Spouses filing for a non-joint uncontested divorce must still file individual paperwork and serve their spouse with the relevant divorce petition.
- RSA 458:7-a.
- Anderson, New Hampshire’s Divorce Reform Act of 1971, 13 N.H.B.J. 158, 161 (1972).
- Circuit Court Family Division Rule 2.17.