Couples that want to divorce in New Hampshire and who have children under the age of 18 have a special obstacle put in their way by New Hampshire law: a seminar dealing with the impact that a divorce can have on young children. Attending and completing this seminar is a required step in the divorce process. Divorce courts in the state will not proceed far into the separation until they are satisfied that you and your spouse have completed the course.
The Child Impact Program
Back in 1993, the New Hampshire legislature enacted RSA 458-D. This law created a mandatory four-hour seminar for parents of minor children who were going through a divorce. The aim of the law was to minimize the “adverse impact on the children of the litigation process and the family’s separation.” While the goals of the law are admirable, many have wondered whether a mandatory and lengthy seminar is the best way to achieve them, especially considering the relative novelty of the course—few other states have a similar requirement for divorcing couples.
The course itself is taught by professional family counselors and aims to teach divorcing parents the skills deemed necessary to minimize or prevent the adverse impact of a divorce on their child’s life. According to the Child Impact Program’s website, these include:
- Promoting your child’s self-esteem
- The negative impact of the conflict (and even violence) that divorces frequently create
- How you can help your child adjust to post-divorce life
- Behaviors to avoid
- Effective co-parenting, communication, and dispute resolution skills
Additionally, the law requires that the Program seminar includes at least 30 minutes of information on the nature of divorce litigation and offers details about alternative dispute resolution methods like arbitration and mediation.
Developing these skills does not just help children whose parents are separating—it helps parents as well. One of the trickiest and most difficult aspects of a divorce can be how to compartmentalize the difficulties that you are experiencing and the frustrations that you are feeling towards your spouse. Keeping those negative emotions away from your children so they can continue to grow and develop in a positive environment can be incredibly difficult, and the skills that are taught in the Child Impact Program can be effective tools for parents to use as they manage life and parenting during the divorce.
Program is Mandatory for Divorcing Spouses
Attending and completing the Child Impact Program is not only mandatory for a divorce proceeding to continue, it can also be the source of sanctions if it is not completed.
Divorcing couples will be required to show a certificate of the course’s completion before a divorce decree will be granted by a court in New Hampshire. However, the course cannot be put off until the last minute: Completion is required within 45 days of the divorce petition being received by the non-initiating spouse.
Importantly, though, there is nothing that requires both spouses to attend the same Child Impact Program seminar. In fact, there are some situations—like those where domestic violence has been alleged or proven—when spouses will be required to attend different sessions.
Not completing the Child Impact Program can raise the ire of the divorce court, however. Under RSA 458-D:5, the divorce court judge can sanction spouses who do not complete the course by holding them in contempt. This can lead to fines or even jail time, and can influence the outcome of your divorce.
There are, however, a small handful of exceptions to the mandatory nature of the Child Impact Program. Under RSA 458-D:8, spouses can obtain a waiver that allows them to skip the seminar if:
- A spouse is incarcerated.
- A spouse previously attended the seminar.
- The office of child support enforcement brought an action to enforce or modify an already existing order.
- The court finds good cause to waive attendance or grant a time extension.
Fees for the Child Impact Seminar
Under the statute, the organization that runs the Child Impact Program is allowed to charge reasonable fees for the course. What constitutes a “reasonable” fee, though, is not defined, so different seminar centers can charge different prices.
Location and Schedule of Child Impact Program Sessions
An up-to-date listing of the places that you can take the Child Impact Program seminar can be found on the New Hampshire Community Behavioral Health Association’s website for the Program, Children First.
The site also hosts a current schedule of the sessions that are provided. Many of these sessions are scheduled for weekends and in the evening, allowing divorcing parents the ability to squeeze these sessions into their lives that are frequently dominated by work or other commitments.
How Divorces Impact Children
While some see the Child Impact Program as a strange requirement for spouses who are trying to divorce, the fact remains that the problems that the Program aims to alleviate do, in fact, exist. Children, especially young children, are frequently hurt when their parents choose to go their separate ways. This is especially true when spouses use their children in an attempt to get what they see as the upper hand in the divorce proceeding. The high degree of conflict that come in these contentious divorces can have lasting impact on the development of the children who find themselves stuck between parents who are adamant in their drive to do what they think is right.
New Hampshire Divorce Attorneys at Tenn And Tenn, P.A.
The Child Impact Program is a key part of the divorce process in the state of New Hampshire, and must be completed by anyone who has children with their spouse and who wants to get a legal separation. While many spouses find the seminar inconvenient, the skills that you can learn from it can be worthwhile, especially if you are worried that your divorce will be severely detrimental to your children.
If you are considering a divorce, the family law and divorce lawyers at the Manchester law office of Tenn And Tenn, P.A. can help. Call us at (888) 332-5855 or contact us online.
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