Child custody is one of the most emotional and challenging parts of a family law case. When you’re facing a child custody dispute in New Mexico, you’re naturally going to be worried, concerned, and afraid, and you’ll likely experience a whole range of emotions along with stress. To prepare yourself and take some of the potential sources of stress out of the equation, it pays to learn as much as you can about child custody in general. Because this is a topic that is often discussed in popular culture, many people have common misconceptions about it. Here are four of those false assumptions that you may believe right now – debunked.
The child’s opinion is given the highest weight
The court does not view all children as reliable witnesses, particularly children who are very young or clearly struggling with the situation. Emotions are high for them during family disputes, and they can have a distorted perception of who the “better” parent really is. Because of all these factors, while their opinion may be taken into account during a custody case, it’s not necessarily assigned the most value. And just because the law in New Mexico says the Court can take a child’s preference into account at age 14, that doesn’t meant the court will. Most judges do not speak with children or rely on their preferences.
My spouse cheated and left, so the children were abandoned
A judge won’t be concerned about your marital relationship when it comes to custody; it’s more about each parent’s relationship with the children and how involved they were with the kids before the custody dispute started. If one spouse is cheating and moved out of the family home and in with someone else, it doesn’t mean he or she abandoned the children. As long as he or she has kept in regular contact with the children or has tried to, moving out of the family home or being with someone else will not bar a person from custody or visitation rights.
Child support determines or is influenced by access
If your ex has primary custody and you have visitation, you still must pay court-ordered child support even if he or she isn’t letting you have your visitation time with the children. Child support is meant for the care of the child and is not linked to the level of contact. If your ex does not follow the parenting time schedule, you need to speak to an attorney and take the matter back to court to enforce your rights.
Similarly, if you have primary custody and your ex is supposed to pay child support but isn’t, you cannot withhold the children as a means of enforcing payment. You’ll need to return to court or contact the state’s enforcement agency if you have a case open there to access the enforcement methods available to parents who are supposed to receive child support.
A visitation order means a parent has to see the kids
Unfortunately, the court can’t force a person to be a parent. While the parenting time schedule gives each parent the right to see his or her children, the court can’t make one parent who isn’t seeing the kids do so. If your ex is not seeing his or her children regularly and hasn’t for a long time, you can speak to an attorney about the possibility of reducing the visitation time; in some cases, terminating that parent’s rights to the kids might be an option.
Knowing as much as you can learn about child custody will help prevent you from going into your case with false assumptions. If you have not done so already, contact an experienced child custody attorney about your situation so you know your rights and what you can expect. Your attorney will also be able to provide you with answers to your questions and concerns.