The court uses a “best interests of the child” standard as set forth in RSA 461-A, and specifically RSA 461-A:6. The statute does more than just identify a grocery list of twelve factors to guide a court’s evaluation of parenting rights and responsibilities. It sets forth an assessment designed to determine the best interests of the child or children involved in such a proceeding.
It also gives courts the ability to: consider what the child wants; take certain steps to protect victims of sexual abuse or assault from a parent; grant reasonable visitation privileges to stepparents and grandparents; and appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the child. Additionally, RSA 461-A:6 prevents the court from including the sex of the child or parent or even the parent’s financial means as part of its evaluation.
With that said, the factors are important and cover a spectrum of considerations as follows:
a) The relationship of the child with each parent and the ability of each parent to provide the child with nurture, love, affection, and guidance.
b) The ability of each parent to assure that the child receives adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and a safe environment.
c) The child’s developmental needs and the ability of each parent to meet them, both in the present and in the future.
d) The quality of the child’s adjustment to the child’s school and community and the potential effect of any change.
e) The ability and disposition of each parent to foster a positive relationship and frequent and continuing physical, written, and telephonic contact with the other parent, except where contact will result in harm to the child or to a parent.
f) The support of each parent for the child’s contact with the other parent as shown by allowing and promoting such contact.
g) The support of each parent for the child’s relationship with the other parent.
h) The relationship of the child with any other person who may significantly affect the child.
i) The ability of the parents to communicate, cooperate with each other, and make joint decisions concerning the children.
j) Any evidence of abuse, as defined in RSA 173-B:1, I or RSA 169-C:3, II, and the impact of the abuse on the child and on the relationship between the child and the abusing parent.
k) If a parent is incarcerated, the reason for and the length of the incarceration, and any unique issues that arise as a result of incarceration.
l) Any other additional factors the court deems relevant.
These factors are a guide for the court, and no single factor is determinative for an award of parenting rights and responsibilities. In the end, it is at the discretion of the court as to how heavily it will weigh each factor and be guided by a guardian ad litem’s recommendation.
Blog Credit: Tara Moore, Crusco Law Office Law Clerk