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Decision Making and Residential Responsibility in NH

In New Hampshire, the term custody is no longer used in divorce and parenting cases.  In its place, the Court now adopts a Parenting Plan that provides for an allocation of decision making responsibility and residential responsibility for the parties’ minor child or children.  In creating a Parenting Plan, the Court is guided by the state’s policy contained in NH RSA 461-A: 2 which supports both parents having stable and meaningful involvement in children’s lives.

Decision Making Responsibility

Major decision making responsibility is either allocated as joint decision making responsibility to both parents or sole decision making responsibility to one parent.  Major decisions generally cover decisions regarding children’s education, non-emergency medical care, and religious education.  In most cases, joint decision making responsibility is awarded to the parents.

There are some cases where joint decision making responsibility is not appropriate.  This may be the case if there is a history of domestic violence and there is a power imbalance in the parents’ relationship where it is not possible for the parents to make decisions jointly.  In addition, if the parents live far apart and do not have good communication, a Court may award sole decision making responsibility to the parent with the child in their care the majority of the time.

Generally, each parent is awarded the ability make day-to-day decisions for the children during his or her parenting time.  This includes the right to make emergency decisions for the child until the other parent is able to be notified.

The attorneys at the Law Office of Joseph M. Annutto can assist you in discussing the particular facts and circumstances of your case to determine what decision making responsibility option would be in your children’s best interest.

Residential Responsibility

In a standard Parenting Plan, there are three options for residential responsibility of children: sole residential responsibility to one parent, primary residential responsibility to one parent with parenting time awarded to the other parent, or shared residential responsibility where both parties have equal or approximately equal parenting time.

Sole residential responsibility of one parent is rarely awarded.  This is the situation where one parent cares for the child and the other parent has little to no contact with the children.  This option may be used where a parent is incarcerated or is a physical danger to the children.  Even though a parent may be a physical or emotional danger to the children, there is the option of supervised parenting time to ensure the safety of the children while still providing a parent with contact with the child.

Primary residential responsibility means that primarily one parent cares for the child, and the other parent has parenting time with the child at times designated in the Parenting Plan.  That parenting time is detailed in the space provided in the Parenting Plan.  This time can be a specific schedule, i.e. every other weekend from Friday at 6 p.m. to Sunday at 6 p.m., or it can be more flexible, i.e. two overnights per week as agreed upon by the parties.

The final option for residential responsibility is shared parenting time.  This is selected when both parents have equal or approximately equal parenting time with the child.  The Court generally looks at overnight parenting time when determining whether the schedule is equal or approximately equal.  An equal schedule is where both parents have seven overnights per two week period with the child.  This may be an alternate week schedule where the child is with one parent for seven days and the other parent for seven days or it may be broken up by days of the week, such as Monday and Tuesday with mom, Wednesday and Thursday with dad, and alternating weekends.

Even a schedule that does not provide for exactly equal parenting time between the parents but is approximately equal, such as eight nights per two week period with dad and six nights with mom can be considered shared residential responsibility.

The allocation of parenting time is relevant not only to where the child will spend time, but may also be relevant to the support paid by one parent to the other.  Generally, when one parent has primary residential responsibility, the other parent will pay child support in accordance with the New Hampshire Child Support Guidelines.  However, even if the parents share residential responsibility, there may be an award of child support or an allocation of the child’s expenses.

Allocating Parenting Time

In New Hampshire, parents are encouraged to negotiate a parenting plan that they feel is in their children’s best interest.  The Courts acknowledge that they will never know your children better than you.  An experienced attorney that is well versed in negotiating Parenting Plans can assist you in this negotiation.

If you cannot reach an agreement on the parenting schedule, the Court will determine what is in the best interest of your child or children.  Some factors that the Court will consider in making this determination are:

  • Relationship between the child and each parent
  • Parent’s ability to provide food, shelter, medical care, clothing, schooling, and a safe environment for the child
  • Developmental needs of the child
  • Parent’s ability to be supportive of the other parent’s relationship with the child
  • Religious, school, and community ties of the child

It is important if you decide to litigate parenting issues that you have the advice of an experienced attorney.  The attorneys at the Law Office of Joseph M. Annutto have the experience necessary to advise and advocate for you in a parenting dispute.

For a free consultation call us at (603) 881-9161 or e-mail us at