When a relationship comes to an end, whether by divorce or by a cohabiting relationship dissolving, there is always a process that occurs when couples attempt to untie their lives together. When couples also share children, they need to go through the additional process of deciding child custody, including who will care for the child or children and how the relationship with both parents will be handled. This is often a difficult process for parents to go through, but the state of New Mexico does have standards in place to ensure that the best interests of the children are upheld.
Deciding Custody in the State of New Mexico
Like many other states in the country, the state of New Mexico follows what is called the “best interests of the child” standard to help it determine appropriate custody arrangements. New Mexico judges begin their evaluation of the case under the assumption that having both parents equally involved in the children’s lives is in their best interest, especially when it comes to helping them cope with the separation of their parents, either through divorce or ending their relationship.
With this is mind, it is important to understand that joint custody of the children is not automatically awarded. Should there be an existing custody arrangement that is working for both parents and the children, the judge leaves that arrangement in place even if it outlines that one parent has sole custody of the children involved. It is possible for custody arrangements to be modified should there be “substantial and material changes” that have or will be occurring. A small change in one of the parent’s lifestyle or circumstances is not grounds for modification.
Best Interests of the Child Standard in New Mexico
Under New Mexico state law, judges are directed to follow certain factors when it comes to evaluating a child custody case. First and foremost, the court evaluates the fundamental concerns in the case, namely the relationship between the children and each parent as well as the parents’ capability and willingness to work with one another. Additionally, the judge evaluates each parent’s ability to care and provide for the children and also if there are any concerns with domestic violence or child abuse by one of the parents.
The judge also examines a number of other factors, including the parents’ ability to cooperate and communicate with one another when it comes to the care of the children. The court wants to have a firm understanding that each parent allows the children to develop relationships with the other parent without intruding on the process and also that the parents are able to come to an agreement when it comes to making decisions about the children’s upbringing.
In addition to relationship and communication factors, the court also looks into the practical considerations that need to be made surrounding the case. These include the distance the parents plan to live from one another, how that distance will impact the sharing of custody, how the children will be transported between homes, and if the overall arrangement is one that will allow for a workable joint custody agreement. The judge cannot, however, make a custody decision based on the gender of either parent – the best interests of the children are the primary concerns.
Should the parents be able to agree on their own child custody agreement and how they wish to share custody of the children, the court will likely honor this agreement as long as it is beneficial and in the best interests of the children. Should the court have to make a decision, and it assigns the couple joint custody, the judge could potentially determine that each parent must consent to certain life decisions. Regardless if the parents have joint custody or if one parent has sole custody, both parents will have court ordered access to the minors’ school and medical records.
Once the court has made a decision, it must explain why that custody decision was reached – it is not enough for the judge to simply say that a certain custody arrangement would have not been in the best interests of the children. The courts would prefer, however, that the parents understand the best interests of the children and come up with a workable custody agreement on their own without needing the court to intervene. Should the parents be able to meet this standard, the court will likely honor their arrangement.
Child Custody Modification in New Mexico
As the children age and the circumstances for both parents change, it may be necessary for a modification to be made to an existing custody agreement. As mentioned, custody modifications are only granted in the state of New Mexico when “substantial and material changes” have occurred that require the arrangement to be reviewed. Should both parents agree to the suggested modification, they are able to submit the changes to the court for approval. More often than not, should the changes be in the best interests of the children, they are approved.
However, should one parent want a modification and the other parent protests, the process becomes more difficult. In this case, it falls upon the parent requesting the modification to prove to the judge that the modification is needed because of significant changes in their or the children’s circumstances and that it is also in the best interests of the children. The judge is then tasked with making the decision as to whether or not to approve these changes; should the judge approve, the changes become part of the agreement and legally binding.
Custody and Relocation in New Mexico
Relocation is another touchy area when it comes to child custody. Again, should both parents agree to the relocation, the relocating parent submits the request to the court, and it will generally be approved as long as the best interest standard is upheld. However, when one parent wants to relocate and the other parent protests it, there is an additional problem – especially when the relocating parent has sole custody.
The burden of proving why the relocation is necessary falls upon the parent who wishes to move, and the standard for proving this is set very high. The parent needs to outline for the court the exact reason why the relocation is necessary and the benefits the children will see from moving somewhere new. Some of the areas the judge looks at include:
- Reason for relocation
- Location of relocation
- Why the relocation is being protested
- The relationship between the children and both parents
- Proposed changes that will need to be made to the current child custody agreement
- Alternative communication methods to be used between the children and the other parent and the cost of these methods