When a couple has a child but are no longer married or living together, a legal determination of where the child lives and how much time is spent with each parent must be made. Family courts across the country handle these child custody matters. This is separate from child support, but because the amount of child support owed varies based on time taking care of a child, some parents fight unnecessarily about money, rather than what their child needs.
How Is Child Custody Determined in New Mexico?
New Mexico courts decide custody based on the “best interests of the child.” This is the same standard as most states. What’s different in New Mexico is at 14 years old, a court considers the desires of the minor rather than determining custody based on the best interest standard. The factors the court looks at are to determine custody for a child under 14 are:
- The parents’ and child’s wishes as to custody
- The interaction and relationship between the child and both parents, any siblings, and any other person who significantly affects the child's best interest (grandparents, parents’ current partners, etc.)
- The child's adjustment to his or her home, school and community
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved
Keep in mind some factors can’t be consider. For example, gender is no longer a factor that determines who the child lives with nor is race a factor. Also, parents can come up with their own parenting plan that determines custody, but the court will review it. If an agreement isn’t in the best interest of the child, it can be denied. On the other hand, if custody is contested, the court will order mediation, if feasible and domestic violence won’t be a barrier, and can order individual counseling if needed and the parties can afford it.
The following chart further details child custody laws in New Mexico.
||New Mexico Statutes Chapter 40: Domestic Affairs, Article 10A: Child Custody and Sections 40-4-8: Contested Custody, 40-4-9: Standards for Determination of Child Custody, and 40-4-9.1: Joint Custody
|Uniform Child Custody Act
||The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) was adopted in New Mexico in 2001. The UCCJEA superseded the earlier version, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act (UCCJA) that was enacted in 1981.
||New Mexico does permit parents to share joint custody of a child. This includes physical custody (where the child lives) and legal custody (who makes medical, educational, and other life decisions for the child). In deciding if joint custody is best, the best interests of the child are consider using the following additional factors:
- If the child has a close relationship with each parent
- Whether both parent are capable of providing adequate care for the child, including respecting the parental rights and privacy of the other parent
- Whether both parents accept parenting responsibilities, including accepting and relinquishing care to the other parent at specified times
- If frequent contact helps strengthen a child’s relationship with both parents and if the child’s development will benefit from both parents’ involvement
- Suitability of a parenting plan arrived at through parental agreement
- The distance between the parents’ homes
- The parents willingness and ability to communicate and cooperate on the child’s needs
- If either parent has engaged in domestic abuse of the child, the other parent, or another household member, the plan must adequately protect the victim
||Grandparents can have visitation rights recognized under some circumstances, such as when they raised the child. Note that when any person other than a natural or adoptive parent seeks custody of a child, they won’t be awarded custody unless the natural or adoptive parent(s) are found to be unfit.
|Child’s Own Wishes
||A child can state a preference as to which parent they would rather live with at any age. However, at 14 years old, the court shifts to considering the child’s wishes more seriously.
Whether you’re just beginning your child custody case or need a modification due to a change in circumstances, it’s best to speak to an experienced New Mexico child custody lawyer for the help and advice you need.
Note: State laws are updated regularly, please contact a lawyer or conduct your own legal research to verify these child custody laws.
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