A custody hearing can bring up feelings of fear and uncertainty. We understand. The impact on you, your children, and your family is very real. Sometimes, it’s helpful to know what to expect, so that you can be well-prepared for what comes next.
What we’ve shared here is not exhaustive, and we highly recommend talking to a qualified lawyer prior to your hearing.
Custody Disputes in New Mexico
The first thing to know is what New Mexico child custody laws are. In our state, New Mexico law assumes that joint custody is best for children. Joint custody means that both parents make legal decisions, spend time with the children, and are involved with them. Joint custody DOES NOT necessarily mean equal time, where the children spend half their time with one parent and half their time with the other.
It’s also helpful to know that New Mexico law divides child custody into two areas: legal and physical custody. 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. 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 parent has visitation rights. The judge will examine the environment of each living situation to determine whether and how physical custody will be shared.
What Do I Bring to Court?
Your lawyer can best advise you about what documents to bring to your custody hearing and whether your personal records are admissible in court.
They might ask you to bring some specific documentation, such as proof of child support payments, a visitation log, your child’s records (like report cards or doctor’s reports/immunization records). You may also be asked to prepare a written statement about yourself, your situation, and what you are asking the court for. It’s also possible you’ll want to have a copy of your parenting plan in hand.
Writing a Parenting Plan
Each family has the right to draft its own custody arrangement, called a parenting plan. These plans are reviewed by the New Mexico family court.
Your parenting plan should include at least the following (NMSA § 40-4-9.1F):
- When the child will stay with each parent and for how long (often called periods of responsibility);
- Which holidays the child will stay with each parent;
- When, how, and where the child will be transferred from one parent to the other;
- How decisions about the child’s education, religion, and medical care will be made;
- How to handle disagreements about the parenting plan;
- Child support and any other issues that will help make joint custody work for both parents and the child.
If the judge doesn’t believe the parenting plan is in the best interests of the child, the court will reject it. If you and your partner haven’t been able to resolve your custody matter on your own, or if your Parenting Plan is unacceptable, the court may send you to mediation for professional assistance.
How Custody Is Decided
If the parents are unable to agree, the New Mexico family court will decide the custody arrangements. New Mexico’s primary standard for deciding issues that involve children is that the best interests of the child prevail. The courts do not favor one parent over another based on gender. Some factors that will help a judge decide:
- 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 along with these factors.
To prepare for your custody hearing, you should make sure that you have a safe space for your children to live in, that it is near to their current school, and that you are mentally and physically capable of caring for them.
Help with Your Custody Hearing
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. We have 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. Call 505-539-3232 or email our firm.