New Hampshire does not treat fathers differently from mothers once paternity is established. With DNA testing, establishing paternity has become a simple process. New Hampshire law presumes it is in the best interests of a child to maintain an ongoing relationship with both parents, as well as with others significant in the child's life, such as grandparents, siblings and cousins.
From the 18th through the late 19th centuries, divorce was difficult and rare. When it did happen, fathers almost always got custody of the children and the mothers could not visit. This changed significantly in the late 19th century, when the development of psychology and psychiatry led to the professional belief that young children in particular needed to be with their mothers. From the late 1800s to the 1970s mothers usually won custody of children and had a lot of control over the amount of time fathers could visit. By the end of the century, professional opinion started to shift again and mental health professionals decided it was in the best interests of children to have significant ongoing contact with both parents. This is the view adopted by New Hampshire today.
One obvious difference between mothers and fathers is it is always clear who the mother is, but not necessarily the father. If there is some question about paternity, there is a process under New Hampshire Revised Code section 168-A:2 for the father to file a petition to establish paternity. Once established, the father has full rights of visitation, but he also has the responsibility to support the child. If a man acts as the father of the child, particularly if the mother acknowledges him as the father, he may still be a "parent" with rights to visitation, even if it turns out that he is not the biological father.
Contact with Non-Custodial Fathers
New Hampshire law puts a high priority on contact with both parents. New Hampshire Revised Statutes section 461-A regulates child custody and visitation. A continuing relationship with both parents is so important that half of the specific factors the court uses in awarding child custody and visitation relate to promoting that relationship. If a parent refuses to support a relationship with the other parent, that is a ground for losing custody. A custodial mother has to encourage a positive relationship with the father. They must have frequent written communication, visits, and phone conversations; allow and promote contact; support the child's relationship with the father; support the child's contact with other significant people, like the father's family; and communicate effectively with the father to facilitate the ongoing relationship.
Danger to the Child
The exception to any parent's right to child visitation is if the child might be in danger from the parent. Child custody and visitation in New Hampshire focuses on the best interests of the child, so the rights of the parents give way to the interests of the child. If a father has a history of child or domestic abuse or jail time, the court will look closely at the risk to the child. Other behavior by the father, like drinking and driving or use of controlled substances may also create a risk. In these cases, the court always has the option to order supervised visitation, where the father can only see the child in the company of a responsible adult.
If a New Hampshire court finds a child has sufficient maturity to express preferences in the area of custody and visitation, the court can ask the child for his preferences. The court will balance factors and decide if a child must visit a father if the child does not want to, or does not wish to visit as often as the father would like.