Effective January 1, 2017, House Bill 1280 adds three additional grounds for modification of parenting plans to RSA 461-A:11, New Hampshire’s statute controlling the circumstances under which the Family Division Court may modify an existing parenting plan. The NH statute is widely viewed as purposefully tough on granting modifications, the intent being to reduce custody litigation and avoid changes to the schedule every few years or for reasons seen as non-substantial. The unintended side effect of such rigidity, however, is that common sense reasons to modify may not be enough to allow the Court to intervene over the objections of a seemingly unreasonable party.
While not opening the litigation flood gates to simple “change of circumstances” allegations, the new legislation does add three more specific instances where changed circumstances may warrant modification. New subsections (g) through (i) allow modification based upon a change in travel time required for visitation, a change in a parent’s work schedule, and where the prior order was established for a “young” child and at least five years has passed. In each case the Court must find that, based upon these changed circumstances, the existing order is no longer in the child’s best interests. A change in a parent’s work schedule must be “substantial.” Where a prior order was created at the “young age of the child”, this is primarily intended to mean a child less than five years old and the parenting plan needs updating now that such child is of school age.
The legislation also clarifies a grey area of New Hampshire’s relocation statute, RSA 461-A:12. Although logic would say that relocation of either parent would warrant modification of the parenting plan, the statute as presently written was unclear. Language was added to expressly allow the Court to modify a parenting plan where the Court orders or the parties agree to the relocation of either parent.