The Effects of Changing Divorce, Child Support , and Parental Rights Law

PRS Briefs
PRS Policy Brief 1516-09
Thursday, April 7, 2016

This report provides the New Hampshire House of Representatives’ Children and Family Law Committee with an evaluation of the effects of RSA 461-A (Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act of 2005), RSA 458-C (Child Support Guidelines 2011), and amendments to RSA 461-A (loss of public funds for Guardians ad Litem). The analysis employs academic literature, expert interviews in New Hampshire, quantitative analysis of New Hampshire and national data, and comparable case studies. Our analysis provides a range of perspectives on the effects that these three laws have on New Hampshire families and on the adversarial nature of divorces involving minor children in New Hampshire. The literature review establishes that mediation is more effective than litigation and that parenting plans promote better outcomes for children and families. The data from 18 expert interviews establishes that within New Hampshire, the main tenets of RSA 461-A and RSA 458-C have decreased the adversarial nature of divorce while the loss of Guardian ad Litem (GAL) funding has increased the adversarial nature of divorce. Most experts interviewed recommended that parenting plans should be easier to adjust, there should be a formula for families with shared residential responsibilities, and the Guardian ad Litem fund should be reinstated. Our quantitative analysis suggests that Guardian ad Litem funding removal has had a disproportionate effect on low-income families in their accessibility of GALs. We do not find compelling evidence that RSA 461-A and RSA 458-C impacted youth and parental health measures. However, this could be driven by limitations in quantitative data availability. The case studies show that child support guidelines based on the Income Shares Model can cause an extra financial burden for custodial parents, especially for low-income families. A detailed analysis of the Guardian ad Litem programs in North Carolina and Florida suggests that the removal of funding for such programs hinders, and adding funding helps, to protect the interests of a state’s children. This report and its findings provide a framework for the assessment of the success and failure of these divorce law changes in New Hampshire, and may help to inform future revisions to these laws.