Parents play an important role in a child’s life – until children are able to care for themselves, parents are there to care for, love, and support their offspring. The bond parents share with their children is a special one recognized under laws in many states including the state of New Mexico. When family issues arise and the parent/child relationship becomes threatened, these problems are generally resolved in family court. Fathers often feel they are at a disadvantage when it comes to navigating the New Mexico family court system, but when they are equipped with the understanding of their rights, it can be much easier.
Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life
In society, we often see mothers maintaining the role of children’s primary caregivers. This traditional role has caused many courts to award custody to mothers without fully considering the important role fathers play in their children’s lives. Not only are fathers equally capable caregivers for children, but they also play an important part in their child’s development including academic performance and social successes. Additionally, children who have loving, involved, and supportive fathers are less likely to act out, get in trouble at school or with the law, or become involved in illegal activities.
Establishing Paternity in New Mexico
It can be devastating when couples start a family unit that is ultimately dissolved after a period of time. In some situations, a child’s mother is abandoned by the child’s father, or the father wants to have a relationship with his child but the mother does not allow it. Regardless of what the facts of the situation are, establishing paternity is an important first step in working through child custody and child support issues in court. In the state of New Mexico, there is a specific process that needs to be followed in order to establish paternity.
Paternity is the legal equivalent of “fatherhood,” and in the state of New Mexico, it means a government agency or court has determined someone to be a child’s father. However, in addition to this legal process, parents can also voluntarily establish paternity. When a child is born during a marriage or within 300 days after the mother has divorced or become a widow, it is assumed the mother’s current or former husband is the child’s father. When this is not the case, meaning a child is conceived outside of a marriage, the child’s paternity needs to be established.
Of the two methods parents can use to establish their child’s paternity, the first and easiest way is through a Voluntary Acknowledgement. Parents have the option to sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement in the presence of a notary public when they are in agreement on who the child’s father is. Once this form has been signed, it is filed with the New Mexico Department of Health, and the father’s name is added to the child’s birth certificate. Once this has been filed with the state government, it is very difficult to reverse or contest, so parents should be sure of their decision before submitting this form.
If parents cannot agree on who the child’s father is, they have the option of submitting a Paternity Petition to the court. The child’s mother, any man who believes he is the child’s father, the Department of Social Services (if the child is receiving government assistance), or a guardian of the child all have the right to file a Paternity Petition. In cases where the mother is unsure who the child’s father is or when a male is denying a child’s paternity, the court may require the child, mother, and alleged father to submit to a paternity test in order to determine the biological father.
Why Paternity Should Be Established
Determining the legal status of a child’s father brings both rights and responsibilities for the father and child. Children benefit from establishing paternity by identifying who their father is and allowing them the opportunity to develop a relationship with that parent. Additionally, the father is able to contribute to the child’s success and have the opportunity to provide him or her with security. For fathers, establishing paternity means legally being able to file for custody and being allowed to have time with their child. For mothers, establishing paternity may mean qualifying for child support to help care for the child.
Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation in New Mexico
Child custody cases can often be a painful and frustrating process for all parties involved, and if parents are not able to agree on how to share time with their child, they may need to turn to the court for a custody decision. Like many other states, the state of New Mexico follows the “best interests of the child” standard to guide its decision making when it comes to child custody cases. Judges always begin their evaluation of a child custody case with the presumption that a joint custody arrangement is in the child’s best interest to keep both parents equally involved in his or her life.
However, when joint custody is not an option, the judge moves to make a decision regarding primary custody. This means one parent is in charge of the child for the majority of the time, and the other parent likely receives either supervised or unsupervised visitation with the child. When deciding which parent would make the better primary caregiver, the judge considers a number of factors:
- Any fundamental concerns regarding the case
- The relationship between each parent and the child
- Each parent’s ability to care for and provide for the child
- Each parent’s willingness to take on parenting responsibilities
- If either parent has any history of domestic violence
- The child’s medical or developmental needs
Based on these and many other factors, the judge determines which parent is the better primary caregiver. Depending on the situation surrounding the case, it is very possible for the child’s father to receive primary custody and the mother to be offered visitation instead.
Father’s Right to Child Support in New Mexico
In cases where the father is granted primary custody, he has an equal right to file for child support, as a mother would in the same situation. Child support is financial support paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent in order to help support the child by allowing the custodial parent to purchase food and clothing and provide shelter for the child. In addition to having a right to collect child support, fathers also have equal access to child support enforcement to ensure they receive the child support payments they need to support the children in their care.
How a Father’s Rights Lawyer Can Help
The family court system can sometimes be difficult to navigate, and many fathers do not know the breadth of rights they have under New Mexico state law, which is why a father’s rights lawyer can be an invaluable resource when it comes to paternity, child custody, or child support cases. These attorneys can ensure fathers receive fair treatment in the courtroom and build a case for them so that they have the best possible outcome. Hiring a knowledgeable lawyer could mean the difference between receiving limited visitation with the child and being the primary custodial parent.