January 1, 2017, statutory amendment provides additional grounds for changing a parenting plan in New HampshireJan 28, 2017
Parental rights and responsibilities in cases involving children, regardless of whether or not the parents are married, are governed by NH R.S.A. 461-A. Section 11 provides the basis for modifying a parenting plan. The law used to provide that the court had authority to change a parenting plan in six defined circumstances: if there was an agreement to modify; if one parent was interfering with the other parent’s parenting time; if the present arrangement was detrimental to a child’s physical, mental or emotional health; if the parents had equal parenting time and the arrangement was ‘not working’; if a child was found by a court to be of sufficient age and mental maturity to state a preference; or if the changes was ‘minimal’. In all cases the change must be found to be in the child’s best interests.
The circumstances referenced above remain in place, but with the passage of House Bill 1280, effective January 1, 2017, there are now three more bases for changing a parenting plan:
1. If one parent’s time was based ‘in whole or in part on the travel time between the parties’ residences’ and the parties are now either living closer together or further apart.
2. If one parent’s time was based ‘in whole or in part on his or her work schedule and there has been a substantial change in that work schedule’.
3. If one parent’s time was based ‘in whole or in part on the young age of the child…provided that the request is at least 5 years after the prior order.’
In all cases, the court continues to apply a ‘best interest of the child standard’ to determine whether or not a change should be made.
The statutory amendments seem at first glance to be reasonable and perhaps intuitive. However, because the statute is generally tough on modification of parenting time, it is significant that the legislature has recognized that circumstances may arise that support modification of parenting time that may not have been allowed under the prior statute.