No one wants to get divorced. Everyone enters marriage with the expectation that it is for a lifetime, and that it will bring happiness. Plans are made. Children are born. A family comes to be. With all these expectations placed on marriage, it is no wonder that divorce is usually so painful. During a divorce we tend to focus on our emotions, our doubts about the past and our fears for the future. Yet, in the end, there is something else which ultimately determines how successful the divorce will be: the law, and how the parties involved approach the law.
That is where this handbook comes in. When a marriage ends, we are confronted with the reality of making new financial arrangements, resolving custody questions, and choosing the right process for resolving disputes. Attorney Honey Hastings' book brings two principles to this process, ones that are not always found together: her book is comprehensive, and it is written in plain English. By focusing clearly on the law, it will help families focus on the crucial decisions they need to make. Hopefully, it will make the divorce less painful.
Attorney Hastings is recognized as a leading expert on divorce law in New Hampshire. She was instrumental in the organization of the Family Law Section of the New Hampshire Bar Association, and she lectures regularly on family law. She began her private law practice in Nashua in 1982. Today she also manages a mediation practice. Divorce decisions are difficult. The division of income and assets almost always leaves both parties with less than they had when they were married. This handbook carefully explains the ins and outs of child support, alimony, and property division. The inclusion of several chapters by CPA Hollis McGuire furnishes a comprehensive overview of financial planning, taxes, and other money issues. With a deeper knowledge of both divorce and tax law, the reader can better make critical financial decisions.
If there is one principle that professionals agree upon, it is that conflict between parents over the daunting issues of divorce is harmful to their children's development and emotional health. Parents do not set out to hurt their children. But a lack of understanding about how the divorce will affect the children, and how best to communicate during the divorce process, often result in choices that are not in the best interest of the children. Attorney Hastings pays close attention to this problem in an early chapter of this handbook, and gives parents the essential information they need to minimize conflict and make good decisions.
I would like to thank Attorney Hastings personally for devoting so much energy to writing this book. As a Professor of Family Law, I strive to teach new lawyers that the practice of family law requires more than knowledge. It also requires compassion and a desire to help people through crisis. I believe that the adversarial system is an appropriate and necessary way to resolve the intransigent problems of some divorcing families. However, the system which I believe works best for most families, and the one that is advocated by Attorney Hastings in this book, is one that minimizes conflict and looks to the individuals who are divorcing to fashion solutions that work for their own family.
Attorney Hastings brings the same compassionate and pragmatic approach to her practice that she recommends and describes in this book. Visiting this book is like visiting her office. The book is arranged (and cross-referenced) so that everyone will find what they need quickly and easily, saving days, perhaps months of research. Those facing a divorce can see clearly how the law will affect them, and even more importantly, how the keys to the resolution of their legal problems lie primarily in their own hands.
Professor of Family Law
Franklin Pierce Law Center
Concord, New Hampshire
In early America divorce was rare. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries most couples remained together by a common bond: the efforts of both were very much needed for their individual and mutual survival. The marriage was further solidified by the law in those days: a wife's personal property belonged to her husband -- if she left him, she took nothing. Even so, some early Americans sought divorces, but for most of those that did, property distribution and placement of children were clear "black and white" decisions.
Things began to change in the nineteenth century for both marriage and divorce law, as the divorce rate began a slow climb. In 1880 the divorce rate in the United States was about 5 percent - one in twenty marriages ended in divorce. Thirty years later it had risen to about 10 percent, and today it continues to hover around 50 percent.
While the divorce rate grew, the laws governing divorce also expanded dramatically. Today New Hampshire's divorce laws contain nuances and technicalities that are difficult for the layman to define or explain in readily objective terms. Rather, they are typically applied and interpreted by attorneys, or by judges and marital masters, and these judicial officers apply their "judicial discretion." More important, social research into the effects of divorce on children and especially the negative effect on children of parental conflict has led to major changes in the determination of parental rights and responsibilities when parents are divorcing or separating in New Hampshire.
This handbook has been carefully and thoughtfully revised by Attorney Hastings. In it she presents -- with the same understanding and attention to detail of the first edition -- a comprehensive view of the divorce process in New Hampshire, including the recent changes that have occurred in law in the state. She does so with the same practical, common-sense and plain-speak style as before.
This handbook provides, as no other source does, a thought-provoking look at the process of divorce. Additionally, it provides helpful information that enables the reader to make informed choices if confronted with divorce or separation: choices about the optimum process for resolving disputes; choices for resolving parental rights and responsibilities questions; choices for fairly and equitably dividing marital property; and choices that will optimize each spouse's ability to make critical financial decisions.
The handbook's chapters entitled "Parenting - The Law" and "Parenting During and After Divorce" are particularly important. Divorcing or separating parents are not just any two litigants brought to court by an accident or an alleged wrongdoing. They are individuals who have been, and will continue to be, in a relationship due to the children they share. The quality of that relationship, now being restructured due to the divorce (or separation), will have a deep and lasting impact on the emotional and psychological health of the children. Attorney Hastings pays close attention to these concerns and provides essential information to parents that can be used to minimize conflict and make sound parenting decisions.
Attorney Hastings has long been respected as an expert on divorce law in New Hampshire. She was a key participant on the Governor's Task Force on Family Law and drafted the Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2005. She lectures regularly on family law, both to members of the New Hampshire Bar and to certified family mediators. She has taken a strong stand in favor of a less- or non-adversarial approach to family matters in the courts, such that today her practice includes mediation, collaborative law, and parenting coordination. Her handbook echoes her philosophy that conflict in family legal matters must be minimized and that divorcing individuals who are able to create their own solutions amicably will inevitably reap important benefits for themselves and their children.
As a family law attorney who has been involved in both the creation of New Hampshire's family court and the development of the Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act, and whose practice has also changed course to emphasize parental integrity and non-adversarial approaches to separation or divorce, I applaud Attorney Hastings for her tireless efforts in first writing, and now revising, this handbook. The book is arranged in a way so as to simply and clearly present all the important information anyone faced with divorce or separation should need to know about the process, the options, and how the law effects them, and how they themselves can control the resolution of their legal problems.
John Cameron, MBA, JD
Laconia, New Hampshire
Mediator and Collaborative Law Attorney