New Hampshire Child Abandonment Laws in Regards to Custody

By Cindy Chung

Updated July 21, 2017

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The New Hampshire Revised Statutes include many code sections intended to protect the interests of children and to define the rights of parents. State law includes a specific definition for child abandonment, which may lead to a termination of parental rights, including the right to request custody of the child. Additionally, a parent's absence may also affect parental rights during a custody dispute or New Hampshire divorce.

Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights

In New Hampshire, the state's child-welfare agency or another interested party may file a petition with the New Hampshire Judicial Branch to request an involuntary termination of parental rights. Section 170-C:5 of the New Hampshire Revised Statutes lists the available grounds for termination of a parent's rights. Subsection I defines child abandonment as a period of at least six months during which the parent left the child without means of support or without communication between the child and parent. Alternatively, the parent may abandon a child by leaving the child without any way to identify the child or parent. If the petition for termination of parental rights includes sufficient facts and evidence to show child abandonment, the parent may involuntarily lose all parental rights, including the right to child custody, on a permanent basis.

Abandonment and Child's Adoption

If a New Hampshire court issues an order with a finding of child abandonment and terminates the parent's rights, the parent no longer has a legal right to receive notice of the child's adoption proceedings. State law allows the child's adoption to proceed without consent of the parent who has already lost parental rights through a court-ordered termination. Accordingly, the adoption may be able to continue and adoptive parents may gain custody of the child.

Parental Absence and Custody

Prolonged absence from a child's life, even if not abandonment for the purposes of an involuntary termination of parental rights, may also affect a parent's custody rights during divorce or other custody proceedings. Under New Hampshire law, the court may consider the child's relationship with each parent when the parents have a custody dispute and need a parenting plan. A parent's absences may affect the quality of the parent-child relationship. After the court has approved a parenting plan, either parent may still petition the court to change the existing order. The parent requesting the change in parenting plan must give a reason for the request; the other parent's absences or infrequent contact with the child may become a reason to modify the parenting plan.

Incapacitated Parent

For some families, a custodial parent has raised the child after the other parent's abandonment, but the court never heard a case to terminate the non-custodial parent's rights. Problems may arise if the custodial parent becomes ill or incapacitated, or dies. Under New Hampshire law, custody rights may revert to the non-custodial parent upon the custodial parent's death. To safeguard the child's interests, a custodial parent may wish to speak with a New Hampshire attorney regarding a guardianship, step-parent adoption or other legal action to protect the child in the event of the custodial parent's death or incapacitation.