Child Custody Law

Child custody can be a confusing subject for a lot of people. If you have never dealt with a custody case in New Mexico before, you may feel a little lost when you start looking into custody because of all the professional and legal terms involved.
However, once you see everything broken down, it is easier to understand the specifics. While it can be a daunting subject to study at first, it’s important for you to feel comfortable with particulars before you go through your child custody case, and these include knowing the different custody types. Remember to speak to your family law attorney when you need clarification on any of the areas below.

Legal Custody

This type of custody relates to how important decisions will be made for the child. These decisions include choices regarding religion, healthcare and education. One parent may have full legal custody, or it can be divided between both parents, which is known as joint legal custody. New Mexico Courts prefer joint legal custody and obtaining sole legal custody can be difficult. In joint legal custody, both parents have a say in these decisions and should make them together. If one parent is being frozen out of the decision-making process by the other parent, the frozen parent can go to court over the order violation.
Keep in mind that if parents continually struggle to settle decisions about the child’s upbringing and often end up in conflict over it, in extreme situations, the judge may appoint one parent sole legal custodian. This will prevent the family from returning to court each time there is a disagreement about a decision to be made.

Physical Custody

Physical custody has to do with the daily care-taking responsibilities involving the child. The parent who has physical custody is the one with whom the child primarily lives. As with legal custody, one parent can have sole physical custody, or both parents can have joint physical custody.
Joint physical custody used to be less common, but it is now seen more and more across the country. This is because there is a general consensus on the benefits of a child being able to spend significant time with both parents as they grow. Joint physical custody does not mean, however, that a child must have to spend equal amounts of time with each parent. It simply means the child will spend significant time with both parents.  In New Mexico, the terms of the joint physical custody are set out in the timesharing arrangement in the Parenting Plan.

How Custody Is Decided

It’s considered preferable that parents come to an agreement on the child custody matter on their own, outside of the courtroom. When two parents are able to create their arrangements through cooperation, it sets a more positive tone for the start of the co-parent relationship. This also means less time in court and less money spent on legal fees in most cases. If you’re concerned about settling your custody matter outside of the courtroom, talk to your family law attorney about your options, which usually include parenting coordinators and mediators.
If you and your co-parent can’t reach a child custody agreement, the judge will decide for you based on what he or she views as being in the best interest of your child. In New Mexico, the judge will weigh many factors before making a decision, including the child’s current relationship with both parents and extended family members; how well adjusted he or she is to home, school and the community; and whether either parent has a history of substance abuse or domestic violence.  Often the Court will appoint a Guardian ad litem for the child or order the family to undergo a custody evaluation.  The services available to help a family make these decisions in New Mexico vary depending on what County you live in.
Child custody is often a highly emotional and complex process. Make sure you have an experienced attorney by your side so you fully understand everything that is going on in your case and all your options.