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Best Interests of the Child

New Mexico courts use a ‘best interests of the child’ standard in deciding child custody and time-sharing issues.  The goal is a custody and time-sharing arrangement that best satisfies the needs of the child.  The parties should keep this in mind as they move through the process of creating a parenting plan.  If the parties cannot agree on what is best for the child for purposes of the parenting plan, the court will decide for them.

The presumption in New Mexico courts is that joint custody is in the child’s best interest.  However, there are circumstances that make joint custody unworkable.  The most common obstacle is the unwillingness or inability of the parents to work together to make joint custody work.   Even when the parents are inclined to work together, there are other barriers to joint custody such as work schedules, lack of child care assistance in one of the homes, distance between the homes of the parents, inability of one of the parents to get the child to school each day, and a lack of supervision or care for the child after school to name just a few.

Where the parents cannot or will not accommodate joint custody of the child, the court then makes the determination almost always with the assistance of Family Court Clinic.  Both the Court Clinic and the court focus on creating a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the child.  In making this determination, Court Clinic and the court consider a number of factors.  Many of the factors are dependent on the age of the child.   The courts give more and more weight to the child’s wishes as the child matures.   At age 14, the child’s wishes largely determine the custody and time-sharing arrangement unless there is a very good reason for ignoring the wishes of the child.

Among the factors considered by the court in the child custody and time-sharing determination are the wishes of the child, the established bonds with each parent and the relationships with others involved in the child’s life such as siblings, relatives, teachers, friends, counselors and coaches.  The court will if at all possible avoid the disruption of these relationships.  The court will also avoid disrupting the daily routines of the child to the degree possible.  This is very important in divorce cases where the child is already suffering enormous emotional distress.

The parties should keep these goals in mind from the very beginning.  Otherwise, the parties are in for a long and stressful journey.  Unfortunately, the children get dragged along for the ride.

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