New Hampshire law allows courts to order parties to mediation in child custody disputesThe Nashua (New Hampshire) Telegraph reported today on a new law which takes effect on October 1, 2005, and significantly transforms divorce and child custody law in the Granite State.

Recognizing that “children do best when both parents have a stable and meaningful involvement in their lives”, the new law, dubbed the “Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act,” promotes the participation of both parents in raising children following a divorce, and codifies the use of mediation as a tool for assisting parents in developing parenting plans together.

A section of the act specifically addresses “Mediation of Cases Involving Children”. With goals that include “decreas[ing] acrimony between parties in a dispute concerning parental rights and responsibilities for minor children”, improving party satisfaction with the outcome of disputes, increasing parental participation in decision-making, and improving judicial efficiency, this section of the law allows a judge to order parties to mediation. Settlement itself, however, remains voluntary, and the law recognizes that the mediator’s function is facilitative, not adjudicative:

The mediator has no authority to make a decision or impose a settlement upon the parties. The mediator shall attempt to focus the attention of the parties upon their needs and interests rather than upon their positions. Any settlement is entirely voluntary. In the absence of settlement, the parties lose none of their rights to a resolution of their dispute through litigation.

There are provisions for circumstances in which the court need not order mediation, including undue hardship to a party, allegations of abuse or negect of a minor child, and findings of domestic violence.

Click here for the full text of the new law.

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