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A New Hampshire bill has been designed to address current aspects of divorce law in order to remind a splitting couple that the children's interests should come first.
HB 640 passed both houses of the Legislature this month and requires divorcing parents to go through pre-court mediation unless a restraining order is in place. The way the current divorce process stands, according to Re. Chris Serlin, D-Portsmouth, is destructive to children and favors the mother.
The bill would assume children need to have both parents actively involved in their lives and asks each parent to create an in-depth parenting plan. Because of the court process under current divorce laws, former partners are often pitted against each other in a lengthy and emotionally difficult battle that can sometimes result in escalating mental and emotional situations or bankruptcy.
Mediation is a powerful divorce tool, according to supporters of the method, especially if the two people want to try to make things work out for the kids involved. For the children involved with the divorce, experts say they often want to know that they will continue to have both their mothers and fathers in their lives.
The bill sets criteria for making decisions about child support and child custody that can make the legal battle, alongside mediation, less costly and more amicable, according to Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth. In the past, courts would often assume the mother would get custody of the children and the dad would get them every other weekend, but the bill aims to “level the playing field” and move more towards the concept of shared custody.
The prime sponsor of the divorce bill, Rep. David Bickford, R-New Durham, said he drafted the legislation to require mediation in every divorce case, but an amendment passed by the Senate exempted cases involving domestic violence. According to New Hampshire's Family Law Task Force, the divorce legislation helps parents keep their children out of the ugly mess that divorce can often turn into.
The divorce bill requires parties involved to develop a 10- to 12-point plan to serve the children together. Because divorce is so common in the U.S., many lawmakers and family experts hope the laws regarding splitting families will focus on ways the process can be less difficult on the children involved.
Child custody rights may be shared by both parents or, primary child custody rights may be awarded to one parent or legal guardian. Since the 1970s the family court will award child custody rights contingent with the best interests of the child.
Child custody for fathers following a divorce is one of the most important aspects of a dissolving marriage. Throughout history the legal presumptions about child custody for fathers has changed significantly. Before the twentieth century children were regarded as the property of their father. Under common law, child custody for fathers was commonly awarded, as children were considered a father's rightful property. A major shift occurred after this period in history, as family courts came to favor mothers in child custody cases. It was presumed that under normal circumstances, children did better when placed in the sole custody of their mothers.