Child Custody Lawyer in Albuquerque and Las Cruces
Child Custody Laws
New Mexico law divides child custody into two areas: legal and physical custody. In New Mexico, the best interests of the child are the guiding principles for deciding custody, and the starting point in any custody case is joint custody between the parents.
Legal custody refers to the right and responsibility of every parent to make decisions regarding the child’s health, education, religion, and upbringing, regardless of which parent has physical custody of the child. In New Mexico, the presumption is that the parents share joint legal custody.
If one parent believes that the other parent is not capable of making rational or responsible decisions about the child, they can bring a motion before a New Mexico family court. Removing legal custody from a parent is a radical step and is rarely done.
Physical custody refers to the time each parent spends with the child. With sole custody, one parent is given complete custody of the child, and the other parents has visitation rights. With joint custody, the parents share time with the child, though not necessarily in a 50/50 split. The judge will examine the environment of each living situation to determine whether and how physical custody will be shared.
Custody disputes, especially legal custody, are complicated, fraught with emotion, and very difficult and expensive. You need an experienced New Mexico child custody attorney to review your case and help you decide the best course of action for your child. If you think that your custody arrangement needs to be reviewed and modified, please contact the Sutherland Law Firm in Albuquerque.
Determining Child Custody Arrangements
Each family has the right to draft its own custody arrangement, called a Parenting Plan. Every Parenting Plan is subject to New Mexico family court review and approval. If the judge doesn’t believe the Parenting Plan is in the best interests of the child, the court will reject the proposed Parenting Plan. If determining child custody is due to a pending divorce, the family law court will not grant the divorce unless the parents include an acceptable Parenting Plan with the divorce petition.
How New Mexico Resolves Custody Disputes
If the parents haven’t been able to resolve the custody matter themselves, or their Parenting Plan is unacceptable, the court can send the parents to mediation for professional assistance. In mediation, parents are encouraged to draft an acceptable Parenting Plan with the assistance of various professionals, including therapists, psychologists, and mediators.
If the parents can’t resolve their custody dispute with mediation, the court will make the final decision. If the custody dispute goes to court, a guardian ad litem will be appointed to represent the child.
Guardian ad litem
In custody disputes, a guardian ad litem advocates for the best interests of the child. The guardian ad litem conducts interviews with the parents, child, and other adults in the child’s life, including teachers, doctors, coaches, and anyone else who can help provide the guardian ad litem with the information necessary for providing a full report to the court.
If the parents are unable to agree about anything related to the child, the guardian ad litem becomes the decision-maker. It is always in the parents’ and the child’s best interests to avoid having a guardian ad litem assigned to the case. Not only do they lose control over the process, but they are responsible for paying for the guardian ad litem, increasing the costs of the child custody dispute.
If you and your partner are struggling with your Parenting Plan, please consult the Sutherland Law Firm in Albuquerque. Our experienced child custody attorneys will do everything in their power to help you avoid a situation where a guardian ad litem is required. If you already have a guardian ad litem assigned to your case, our child custody attorneys can help you negotiate and interact with them to arrange the best Parenting Plan for your child.
The Best Interests of the Child Standard
If the parents are unable to agree, New Mexico family court will decide the custody arrangements. As mentioned above, New Mexico’s primary standard for deciding issues that involve children is that the best interests of the child prevail. The judge or arbitrator will examine:
- the mental health of each parent in the new living arrangement;
- the physical health of each parent in the new living arrangement;
- the new living arrangements (space and environment, for example);
- the expressed desires of the child and parents;
- the child’s relationships with the family in both homes (for instance, siblings, new partners and their children, and grandparents);
- the extent to which a change in the current arrangement will disrupt the child’s life (changing school and a new community, for example).
In New Mexico, if a child is at least 14 years old, the court will take their wishes into account, as well as the best interest factors as established by the state.
In New Mexico, the parents are the preferred custodians of the child. Unless the parents are prohibited from being parents, the court will likely award joint custody to both parents. Joint custody does not necessarily mean that custody will be split evenly between the parents. The court will do what it can to ensure both parents have some custodial time with the child.
Violence against the other parent or other people will not automatically disqualify a parent from custody or visitation. The judge will assess the history of the violent parent and put protective orders in place as needed.
Non-parental custodians can include other members of the family or guardians appointed by the parents in writing. If custody is being awarded to someone other than a parent, the 14-year-old has the right to nominate the person. As long as the person is 21 years of age or older and the person is eligible to be a custodian, custody can be granted to the child’s nominee.
The Sutherland Law Firm has over 40 years of experience in managing child custody cases. Our team of experienced child custody attorneys will guide you through the process and help you get the best possible result for your child and your family.