Residential Rights and Responsibilities and Parenting
Time …. formerly known as “Physical Custody” and “Visitation.”
Under the current statute, courts look at residential rights and responsibilities and parenting time, with the intent being
to place less of an emphasis on treating the child as an asset to be “awarded” (as in a “custody award”),
and more of an emphasis on child-centered co-parenting.
As noted in the statutory “statement of purpose” quoted above, the courts in general will attempt to support frequent
contact between each child and both parents, and encourage parents to share in the “rights and responsibilities of raising
their children” after the separation or divorce.
Does this mean that the courts will automatically assume that the child should be with each parent fifty percent of the time,
in every case? No – it does not mean that at all. Under the new statute – just as under the old – the courts
must act in the best interest of the children in that particular case. The law does not set up a presumption as to what kind
of parenting arrangement is presumed to be “usually” best for the average child, because as we all know –
there is no such thing as an average child or an average family! Rather, this is a very fact-driven determination, which must
be made on a case by case basis. In some cases, the court may decide that equal or approximately equal periods of residential
responsibility are in fact in the child’s best interest. In other words, the child lives roughly half the time with
Mom, and roughly half the time with Dad – or a similar arrangement. But it is also true that in many other cases, the
court finds it in the child’s best interest for one parent to provide “primary residential responsibility”
for the children for the majority of the time, with the other parent having certain periods of “parenting time.”
In some situations, where the safety of the children is in question, it may be necessary for the court to order one parent’s
parenting time to be supervised or monitored – by a professional, the other parent, or another family member or friend.
Perhaps the best
way to sum up this area of the law is that there is no such thing as “normal” and no one size fits all solution.
New Hampshire law calls for the decisions to be made on a case by case basis, with the best interests of the child as the
guiding light at all times.
Decision Making and Information Sharing
This is similar to what used to be called “legal custody.” In a divorce or parenting matter, an order must be
established setting forth how major decisions will be made regarding the children. Both parents may share joint decision-making,
or in certain circumstances, one parent may be awarded sole decision making.
The court must also determine what rights and responsibilities the parents have to share information regarding the children,
including for example, access to medical records and school records.