The ending of relationships, whether through divorce or other means of separation should present an opportunity to move on for both the couples and the children involved; however, when domestic violence is present in these relationships, moving on may not be the goal of the abuser.

For those that perpetrate domestic violence, control is often the main goal of their behavior, according to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence. When divorce or separation proceedings begin, an abuser may attempt to maintain control by manipulating the process.

Manipulation can come in the form of improperly painting a portrait of the victim as unstable and less competent as a parent. Because of the abuse suffered, the victim may be less able to overcome these allegations, whether through an inability to speak up due to fear or because of some mental impairment suffered through trauma.

The law and the courts of New Mexico seek by mandate to achieve the best interests of the child. Unfortunately, on occasion, New Mexico‘s “best interest of the child” standard used in child custody issues may actually help an abusive parent exert control over another parent.

This standard implies that it is “best” that the child to be raised by both parents, unless there is evidence that such a relationship would be detrimental to the child. Because of the often secretive nature of domestic violence, this evidence may not be easily obtained. Even the child involved may not fully observe or understand the relational dynamics between their parents, thus, they may not be able to alert authorities to the dangers facing the victim parent.

If an abusive parent can successfully convince the court that the child belongs with them, the victim parent loses control, while the abuser gains more control. The abuser now has the legal right to continue controlling the other parent through visitation schedules, monetary support and even decisions regarding the actual care of the child. More alarmingly, the victim parent may be subject to further violence because of the continued contact.

Domestic violence matters should be openly discussed with an attorney, once the decision to separate has been made. An experienced divorce attorney can become the voice of the victim throughout the court proceedings and may eliminate the potential for an abuser to continue their reign of control.

Collins & Collins, P.C.
Albuquerque Attorneys

DISCLAIMER

Child custody and time-sharing disputes can be extremely contentious. One common flashpoint is the child custody exchange. There are a number of common sense things the parents can do to avoid escalating conflict that often builds over time with custody exchanges. There are also a number of things that parents should not do during the exchange. Here are the top ten that we came up with:

1. Do NOT arrive late to pick up your children. This may seem obvious, but what can seem like a few harmless minutes to one parent can really upset the other parent and, in turn, the children. Always leave extra time to ensure that you will get to the pick location on time.

2. Do NOT make last minute changes. This goes along with being on-time and shows a general respect for the other parent and allows everyone to know what to expect. While it may seem like a simple change to have the other parent meet you at the store, rather than their house as regularly scheduled, such a change may really disrupt the other parent‘s plans, which in turn causes the children stress.

3. Do NOT discuss other issues at exchanges. Exchanging your children can be a difficult, tension filled process for both parents and children. Do not add to that tension by bringing up other issues like child support or a request to change timesharing at the exchange, save those discussions for a telephone call or e-mail exchange with the other parent.

4. Do NOT arrive unprepared. Bring children to an exchange with all the items they will need for their time with the other parent, this includes homework, sports equipment, clothes etc. This preparation helps limit stress on children because they have what they need and limits hysterical phone calls between parents looking for a soccer uniform twenty minutes before the game is scheduled to start.

5. Do NOT bring dates or random people to exchanges. As noted above, exchanges can be really stressful for parents and children alike, especially after a recent divorce or separation. Bringing a date may upset the other parent unnecessarily and bringing any other person may distract you from focusing on your children who need your full attention.

6. Do NOT go alone where domestic violence is an issue. (the exception to Number 5). If you and your ex have a history of domestic violence or accusations of domestic violence, it may be a good idea to bring a third party with you to exchanges to act as witness, which often helps everyone behave. Think carefully about the person you bring; it needs to be someone your children are comfortable with and who will not upset your ex. And remember, this person‘s job is just to observe not to create or participate in drama between parents.

7. Do NOT discuss adult issues with the children. When your son or daughter gets in the car at an exchange without a coat in the middle of winter, this may upset you. However, do not use that time to make comments about your ex (i.e. “I guess your father is too busy to bring your coat” or “Doesn‘t your mother know how to dress you properly?”) to your children. Such concerns need to be addressed between parents outside the earshot of children. Involving children in adult issues makes them feel torn between parents and, in the long run, can cause severe emotional harm.

8. Do NOT make your children the intermediary. Parents get separated for a reason and they often want as little to do with each as possible, which is why it can be tempting to have your children give the other parent messages for you. Never do this. A child‘s job is to be a child, not to run interference between feuding parents. Not only is such message sending stressful for the children, it is a really ineffective way to communicate information and will often lead to misunderstandings that cause bigger problems.

9. Do NOT be stubborn. While both parents‘ time with their children is important and it is essential that each parent respect that, life still happens. Be flexible about rescheduling visits to accommodate family vacations and work conflicts with the other parent. Or if exchange times need to be rearranged to accommodate your children‘s music lessons, work with the other parent.

10. Do NOT bring law enforcement to exchanges. It is not the job of the police or sheriff‘s department to enforce family law orders. Aside from escalating conflict between parents, the presence of law enforcement can really upset children who often associate law enforcement with someone being in trouble or some sort of emergency. Surrounding exchanges with such negative connotations can cause children a lot of anxiety and even fear about exchanges.

Collins & Collins, P.C.
Albuquerque Attorneys

DISCLAIMER

There a variety of factors that come together during the holidays that far too often end with trip to jail and a journey through the courts. Sadly, the holiday season brings with it a significant increase in incidents of domestic violence. One need not look far to figure out the causes for this.

Alcohol is perhaps the chief culprit. Generally, alcohol is a significant contributor to incidents of domestic violence. This is well recognized and is one reason alcohol use is strictly prohibited as a condition of release in domestic violence cases. Violations of the prohibition on alcohol use have serious consequences for the defendant not infrequently resulting in confinement while a criminal domestic violence case is pending.

Unfortunately, use of alcohol increases substantially during the holidays. Most every party and get together will have alcohol. In addition, there are the alcohol fueled football game watching activities. Alcohol is often even served at company parties and holiday functions. It would be hard to avoid alcohol even if one were inclined to do so. And, many are predisposed in the other direction due to any number of circumstances.

Stress during the holidays can add significant pressures to a relationship. There are too many holiday stressors to enumerate here. Suffice it to say that stress coupled with alcohol can lead to some unfortunate outcomes.

Alcohol and stress cannot used to explain away domestic violence. Nor can it be used as an excuse. Domestic violence is a very serious issue with much deeper and complex explanations than a mix of alcohol and stress. On the hand, it is fairly well established that many people do not handle alcohol very well. They do things under the influence of alcohol that they would not otherwise do.

It is clear that stress and the lack of control or inhibitions brought on by alcohol can lead to escalation of situations that would not otherwise occur. The stress and emotions of the holidays can put everyone on edge. Throw in alcohol and the inhibitions may come down completely. As does the judgment.

What might otherwise be a rational conversation can quickly escalate to the point that the police are called by one of the parties, frightened children, friends or neighbors. Once the police are called out on a domestic violence call, even when the call itself may have been an overreaction fueled by alcohol, one of the parties is going to jail.

On occasion, it seems as if who goes to jail is simply a coin toss. One way or the other, the event can have extremely costly consequences for the family. Honestly, the attorney fees alone should be a deterrent. However, there are far more serious and lasting consequences beyond attorney fees such as the possibility of permanent criminal record and lifetime domestic violence offender registration.

In addition, and as a result of the finding of domestic violence, there can be severe employment consequences. In fact, a domestic violence conviction will make one ineligible for many jobs. In New Mexico, one chief concern is the loss of security clearances. And these are not all. There are several other consequences of a domestic violence finding including extremely severe immigration consequences.

The best way to avoid these outcomes is to avoid one of the primary causes which is over-drinking. If you cannot drink without over-drinking, then don‘t drink. And don‘t put yourself and your loved ones in a situation where this might even remotely become a problem.

In other words, if you cannot control yourself around an open bar, then stay away from parties. If you cannot go out with friends to watch football without overdoing it, then watch football at home. If tensions and stress are already high around your home, then don‘t throw gasoline on the fire. If you cannot resist the urge to drink even though you know drinking might lead to problems, then seek counseling. And understand that if you don‘t go voluntarily, the court will sternly nudge you in that direction.

The holidays can be trying. The aftermath can be even more difficult. This is particularly so if you are facing domestic violence charges. The stress of the holidays will not be alleviated one bit by a criminal prosecution in the new year. In the unfortunate event that domestic violence charges are a part of your holiday season, seek the guidance of an attorney before further harm is done.

Collins & Collins, P.C.
Albuquerque Attorneys

DISCLAIMER

The New Mexico Family Violence Protection Act (“the Act”) creates a specific cause of action that allows a victim of domestic abuse to obtain a civil restraining order against the household member who committed the abuse. This type of restraining order is called an order of protection and will prevent the restrained party from any contact with the victim. Any person accused of domestic violence has a right to a hearing before a long-term order of protection is entered against them. The Act provides that those hearings may be conducted by a domestic violence special commissioner.

The special commissioner is not a judge, although they must be an attorney licensed to practice law in New Mexico and be knowledgeable in the areas of domestic relations and domestic violence. The special commissioner also has the authority to review initial petitions for orders of protection, issue temporary orders and enforce or modify orders of protection. However, all decisions by the special commissioner must be approved by a district court judge. Essentially, the special commissioner recommends a certain action (in the case the entry of an order of protection) and then the district court judge decides whether or not to accept that recommendation and issue the order. As a practical matter, most recommendations by the special commissioner are initially approved and entered by the reviewing district court judge.

Even though a special commissioner‘s initial recommendations will almost always be entered, the restrained party still has the opportunity to object to the special commissioner‘s findings and have those objections heard by the district court judge. Generally those objections must be filed with the district court within ten (10) days of the entry of the order of protection, or other related order, and they must be submitted in writing. Further, when submitting objections, it is also important to remember that the district court judge is only reviewing the special commissioner‘s recommendations and will only reverse or modify the resulting order if they determine that the recommendations were: arbitrary and capricious or an abuse of discretion; not supported by substantial evidence in the record; or, otherwise not in accordance with the law. This legal standard can be hard to overcome, which means that objections clearly explain to the district court why the entry of the order of protection is improper. It is not enough for an objecting party to tell the court that he or she disagrees with the entry of the order of protection; they must provide a legal basis for the objection.

Given that the district court judge is only reviewing the special commissioner‘s recommendations, it is essential that a party facing an order of protection take the initial hearing with the special commissioner seriously and present as much evidence as possible refuting the charges. By the same token, a party seeking to have an order of protection should be ready to present evidence supporting their case and explaining why they need protection. Parties should not disregard the importance of the initial hearing by relying on their ability to object later. And, given the very serious consequences of the finding of domestic violence that underlies an order of protection, both parties should seriously consider having legal counsel represent them before the special commissioner as well as to file any required objections.

Collins & Collins, P.C.
Albuquerque Attorneys

DISCLAIMER

Many divorces have some level of conflict. Many others go smoothly with minimal emotional and financial damage to parties and the children. Then there are the high conflict divorces. These are generally devastating both emotionally and financially to the parties. They are rarely necessary and should be avoided if at all possible.

There are numerous behaviors that can send a divorce toward high levels of conflict and consequent high attorney fees and costs. The following list is not exhaustive but reflects the most common indicators and behaviors of high conflict divorce. To send a divorce spiraling into conflict, one or both parties:

  1. Can begin the divorce process by avoiding service of process.
  2. Can refuse to answer, forcing a motion and hearing on default.
  3. Can fight the interim division of income and expense.
  4. Can refuse to provide discovery or make illegal, nonstandard or overly burdensome discovery requests.
  5. Can file groundless motions.
  6. Can refuse to cooperate and compromise on the division of property and debt.
  7. Can refuse to mediate in good faith once the case is sent to settlement facilitation by the court, as every case is.
  8. Can force a trial even though the outcome will be harmful to both parties.
  9. Can fight over the smallest and most trivial items as a way of settling emotional scores.
  10. Finally, after all that, can refuse to abide by the Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) or court judgment by; Refusing to cooperate in preparation of QDRO‘s. Refusing to cooperate in transfer of assets. Refusing to sell the home as ordered. Refusing to refinance the home or other debt as ordered. Refusing to provide title documents as ordered and required by law to transfer property. Refusing to pay debt as allocated. Or finally, coming up with new and creative ways to avoid obligations under the MSA or court judgment.

Now for the bad news. Any one of these can add enormous costs to the parties in terms of attorney fees. Each one could require a hearing which can add significantly to the costs of the divorce due to preparation time, travel time to court, waiting for the hearing to begin, drafting the order after the hearing and of course, returning to the judge for rulings on the content of the order because one of the attorneys or parties does not agree with the order as written, does not agree that the order as written reflects the court‘s ruling or just plain wants to be difficult. In short, any one of these issues can add hours upon hours of attorney time with corresponding attorney fees.

Now for the really bad news. I did not mention domestic violence, child custody, or child support. These issues can each increase the costs of a divorce or family law matter exponentially. They each are deserving of a discussion of their own.

In short, the costs of a divorce are dictated by the amount of attorney time expended. The amount of attorney time is dictated by the behavior of the parties. Either or both parties can drive up the costs of a divorce. Attorneys have limited control over the variables that will drive up attorney time. The best a lawyer can do is to try to work efficiently while advising the client of the risks of rising costs associated with certain behavior. Unfortunately, even the most efficient attorneys cannot control the other side. Only the other attorney can control that side of the equation and that is entirely different topic for discussion.

Collins & Collins, P.C.
Albuquerque Attorneys

DISCLAIMER

False imprisonment is a fourth degree felony. As a felony, it has very serious felony consequences for the defendant.

A true case of false imprisonment is a very serious matter deserving of serious treatment by the prosecutor. However, the charge of false imprisonment is often thrown in on the most whimsical evidence.

The New Mexico criminal statutes define false imprisonment as “intentionally confining or restraining another person without his consent and with knowledge that he has no lawful authority to do so.” Though the statute is intended to address very serious and specific behavior, the broadness of the language allows it to be applied in a fairly arbitrary manner.

The most common incidence of overcharging a defendant for false imprisonment arises in domestic settings. The charge is often coupled with domestic violence charges such as assault or battery on a household member. The creativity with which it is applied to the facts often comes as a surprise to both the defendant and the alleged victim.

For instance, and not uncommonly, the alleged victim will tell the police that the defendant was blocking a doorway so she could not get out of a room. The alleged victim may give this statement with little consideration, not knowing, and not intending to suggest the crime of false imprisonment. There are countless variations on this theme where the alleged victim suggests in some small way that her right of ingress or egress was inhibited.

Due to the broad language in the statute, prosecutors have a great deal of latitude in bringing the charge of false imprisonment. Unfortunately, the charges are brought far too often on fairly innocuous behavior and well beyond the intended grievance of the alleged victim. The defendant rightfully will be very alarmed by the felony domestic violence charges. Frequently, the alleged victim is equally outraged by the hyped up charges.

Because of the serious potential consequences of a felony conviction, it is important to address these types of charges early. On occasion, depending on the circumstances, it is possible to avoid indictment on false imprisonment charges if the charges are addressed early enough. Once the indictment is issued, there are still some though fewer options to avoid a felony conviction.

Anyone facing false imprisonment and felony domestic violence charges should contact a attorney experienced in criminal and domestic violence charges as soon as possible. Delay in addressing the problem may seriously impede possible defenses.

Collins & Collins, P.C.
Albuquerque Attorneys

DISCLAIMER

There are some widely held misconceptions regarding a defendant‘s Miranda rights. Defendants often complain that police questioned them without the presence of an attorney. What they do not understand is that a police officer may question them without an attorney so long as they are not in custody.

“In custody” is in fact fairly narrowly construed. A suspect is considered to be in custody if there was no freedom to leave. If the suspect was not free to leave and the police continue to question him or her, then this would be considered a custodial interrogation.

There is a careful distinction made by the courts between a custodial interrogation and investigative questioning.

Police officers are free to ask an individual questions, even when that person is a suspect, so long as the questioning is voluntary. Once the questioning passes into the domain of involuntary questioning, Miranda rights kick in. At that point, the suspect must be read his or her rights which include the right to an attorney.

Whether or not the questioning is involuntary thereby constituting a custodial interrogation is measured by whether a reasonable person would believe he is free to terminate the questioning. In some cases, this matter is quite easily resolved. In others, the “reasonable man” would have to quite bold to simply leave the scene.

For instance, in the 2009 New Mexico Court of Appeals case of State v. Smile, the defendant pulled up voluntarily in his vehicle, voluntarily left his vehicle, and then voluntarily walked 50 feet toward the officers yelling out that he heard the officers were looking for him. He then commenced to confess a number of acts, including suggestions of future violence, sufficient for conviction for felony domestic violence under the aggravated stalking statutes. All of this was done voluntarily by the defendant almost in a bragging tone as if to say “look at all the hell I have put her through and the hell to come if she does not come around.” Needless to say Mr. Smile was convicted of aggravated stalking and his Miranda appeal was denied.

Contrast this to the 1998 New Mexico Supreme Court case of State v. Munoz. In that case, the defendant, as a suspect in a murder case, was taken by FBI investigators from his home in an officer‘s vehicle. The defendant was driven a mile or so from his home and questioned for an hour and forty minutes by the FBI officers. He ultimately confessed to the crime. The Court in Munoz found that despite the nature of the questioning, it remained strictly voluntary. The defendant was free to terminate the questioning and exit the vehicle or in the alternative not get in the vehicle to begin with. As such, the questioning was voluntary and not a custodial interrogation. There was therefore no obligation to advise the defendant of his Miranda rights and his confession was fully admissible.

In either case, the defendants in both the Smile and Munoz cases would have done well to shut up and ask for an attorney. In fact, any suspect or defendant would be well to shut up and ask for an attorney. It is a risky gamble to assume that confessions made to police will somehow be excluded due to Miranda violations. In fact, such evidentiary exclusions are rare. So once again, defendants should “shut up and ask for an attorney.” There is certainly no harm there. It is a constitutionally protected right!

Collins & Collins, P.C.
Albuquerque Attorneys

DISCLAIMER

A Nolle Prosequi or simply Nolle is considered a good outcome in a criminal case. However, this must be qualified since the Nolle is not necessarily the end of the case.

A Nolle is usually entered without prejudice. This means that the district attorney or prosecutor can re-file the charges at a later date. The Nolle will not generally toll the speedy trial rule which at the metropolitan and magistrate court levels is construed to be six months. As such, the prosecutor must re-file within the six month period.

Nolle‘s are typically entered when the prosecutor has been unable to make the state‘s witnesses available for pre-trial interview by the defense. Likewise, the prosecutor may be unable to get the state‘s witnesses to trial. This situation is not uncommon. It may occur in DWI cases when the officers are not available for interview and or trial.

The incidence of dismissal in DWI cases has gone down significantly since the Albuquerque Police Department discontinued the DWI team concept. In the past, there would typically be two officers involved, one that made the traffic stop and another DWI unit officer who conducted the DWI investigation. The team concept required both officers presence for pre-trial interviews and for trial. If either was unavailable, the case would be dismissed.

On other occasions, critical evidence may be missing or otherwise unavailable such as police reports, witness statements, lab or test results and so on. This last situation is fairly rare but does occur on occasion. A missing police report is hard for the prosecutor to overcome. Missing witness statements may provide grounds for a dismissal or at least suppression of certain evidence. Missing lab or test results in some cases may be insurmountable for the prosecution. However, in DWI cases, missing breath or blood alcohol scores are a mere nuisance to the prosecution due to the impaired to the slightest degree standard. The breath score is simply unnecessary for a conviction if there is any admission of alcohol.

Though the Nolle is never a bad thing, it likewise is not a permanent thing until the six month speedy trial run has run. Often, upon entering a Nolle, the prosecutor will be able to collect missing evidence and locate missing witnesses. If done in a timely manner, the prosecutor can then re-file. There are those instances where the case is re-filed at the last minute just before the speedy trial rule runs. There are some judges that will not allow this practice due to the severely prejudicial effect it has on defendants. There are others that will let it slide. Unfortunately, short of appeal, the outcome may rest entirely on pure luck of the draw.

Collins & Collins, P.C.
Albuquerque Attorneys

DISCLAIMER

A charge of domestic violence in New Mexico is always very serious. There are numerous and severe consequences for a domestic violence conviction.

A charge of for felony domestic violence steps up the seriousness and the possible consequences.

Most domestic violence is charged as a misdemeanor. As a misdemeanor, the maximum possible jail time is one year. Once a case is charged as felony domestic violence, the penalties are greatly enhanced beginning at 18 months possible prison time on a 4th degree felony, 3 years on a 3rd degree felony, 9 years on a 2nd and 18 years on a 1st degree felony.

As a felony, the prosecutors are typically much more aggressive in prosecution as well. For instance, in minor misdemeanor domestic violence where there are no injuries or weapons, the prosecutor will not pursue the alleged victim‘s cooperation quite as aggressively as in a felony. In a felony domestic violence where there are injuries, weapons or other felonies involved, the prosecutor or district attorney will often be significantly more persistent in tracking down the alleged victim and getting the alleged victim to court for trial.

There are a number of ways to charge felony domestic violence. Perhaps the most common is aggravated assault against a household member which is classified as a fourth degree felony. This charge requires, “(1) unlawfully assaulting or striking at a household member with a deadly weapon; or (2) willfully and intentionally assaulting a household member with intent to commit any felony.”

The weapons portion seems straightforward enough. However, this language can be broadly construed by the prosecutor. The mere presence of some deadly weapons such as a knives or guns even in the absence of a threat may trigger this charge. In addition, the term deadly weapon itself may be stretched to include otherwise innocuous items depending on the circumstances and the alleged intent of the defendant. And then of course the construction of “intent” is always a slippery matter.

The second part of the definition of the offense can be even more perplexing and frustrating to defendants. The “intent to commit any felony” covers a lot of ground. It is not uncommon to see the alleged facts stretched to logical extreme in order to meet the requirements of this element. Though there are countless ways this charge might arise, the most frequent are kidnapping and false imprisonment. These are topics unto themselves but suffice it to say that the commonly held definition of these terms is frequently only remotely related to the facts of a particular case.

In short, there are countless ways to arrive at felony domestic violence charges. The basis for a felony domestic violence charge is most often clear from the alleged facts. On other occasions, the charge can be quite a stretch from the facts. Unfortunately, however one gets there, the charges are very serious and the possible consequences quite severe.

Collins & Collins, P.C.
Albuquerque Attorneys

DISCLAIMER

The New Mexico statute governing the dissolution of marriage (divorce) lists four reasons that can be given to the court as grounds for divorce: 1) incompatibility; 2) cruel and inhuman treatment; 3) adultery; and, 4) abandonment.

Practically speaking, the vast majority of divorces in New Mexico are granted on the basis of incompatibility, which is known as a “no-fault” divorce. The policy of no-fault divorce has been a part of New Mexico law for more than sixty years and is so strongly favored by the courts that the other three grounds are rarely used anymore.

Even if one of those grounds is used as a basis for a divorce petition, the court will often not investigate that claim. Instead the court will recognize that the parties are incompatible and move on to the parties‘ debts and assets and addressing issues of custody and support.

This means that parties to a divorce in New Mexico will generally not have to spend time (and the associated attorney‘s fees and costs) proving that the other party committed adultery, behaved cruelly or is otherwise a bad person because the courts will deem that information irrelevant.

Often the no-fault policy can be hard for parties to a divorce to accept. This is especially so in cases where there has been adultery or cruel treatment by a spouse during the marriage. There is no shortage of animosity associated with financial affairs as well. Far too often, parties go into the divorce with the intention and the need to prove the other party is at fault. Sometimes, they simply will not be content until they have shown the court that the other party is simply a bad person.

In fact, the spouse may be a bad person guilty of all kinds of bad and sometimes atrocious behavior. Unfortunately, this behavior is with rare exceptions irrelevant to the divorce and the division of property and debt. It may or may not be relevant to child custody and time-sharing. Even when it is not, there are many occasions when the battlefront is shifted to the children. Child custody and time-sharing disputes will often to the great detriment of the parties, and especially the children, serve purely to punish the other spouse for the misdeeds during the marriage.

Consulting with an experienced divorce attorney can help parties focus on the relevant facts and applicable law, so that they can get through the divorce process efficiently and get on with their lives. In the absence of domestic violence, domestic abuse, child abuse, or child neglect, battles for moral superiority have no place in a divorce action. No-fault divorce has grown over time with the knowledge that the fault based divorces were often devastating to the parties and the children. The courts of New Mexico have made clear that allegations of fault will no longer be entertained.

Collins & Collins, P.C.
Albuquerque Attorneys

DISCLAIMER