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Child custody is often one of the biggest concerns when seeking a divorce. Couples can work out a parenting plan, which includes how custody and visitation will work, on their own and submit it to the court.

In most cases, the judge will accept a reasonable plan that covers all areas of parenting, including how decisions will be made, where the child will go to school, who they will live with, how often they will spend time with each parent, and more.

However, not every couple can reach an agreement on their own. When couples can’t agree, the judge will often send them to mediation to attempt to resolve the issues surrounding child custody.

If this is also unsuccessful, both parties will argue their case before the court, and the judge will decide about child custody based on multiple factors. The most important concern is always the child’s best interests, and there are many aspects the judge will consider.

What Do Judges Look For in Child Custody Cases?

Here are some of the issues that a judge will ponder in deciding child custody:

Is Joint Custody a Good Option?

The courts generally favor a shared custody arrangement because they recognize that involving both parents usually benefits a child.

Joint custody regarding decision making does not mean a 50/50 split of time.

Equal timesharing isn’t always feasible for a variety of reasons.

If one parent travels extensively and is away often, it may not be a good option. Other considerations include each parent’s living situation, the unpredictability of work schedules, and each parent’s willingness and ability to handle all parenting responsibilities.

If you want to have shared custody of your child, and your spouse is asking for full custody or to have the child more of the time, certain issues could be relevantt:

  • You have a stable living environment. This means you generally live in one place rather than bouncing from one short-term arrangement to another.

Your home is usually a calm environment – you don’t have many strangers coming and going at all hours, and you don’t do anything else that might disturb your child’s schedule, sleep, or well-being.

  • You’re financially able to provide for the child. This might mean you have a steady job or some other regular source of income.
  • Your work schedule is predictable enough that you can usually be available for your child. Emergencies can occur in virtually any line of work, but if your job is frequently unpredictable, causes you to travel unexpectedly, or has a hectic or constantly changing schedule, this could make it difficult for you to parent effectively.
  • You’re committed to all aspects of parenting, including disciplining your child, getting them to bed at a reasonable time, ensuring they get to school on time each day, etc.

In other words, you can do the difficult parts of parenting rather than just being the “fun parent.”

  • You don’t currently have any challenges that would interfere with effective parenting. Sometimes one spouse will argue that the other party shouldn’t have custody because they struggle with substance abuse or mental health issues.

These difficulties are very common, and having a history of them shouldn’t prevent you from sharing custody of your child, but you will need to demonstrate that you have taken steps to address your condition.

For instance, you may need to show that you are now sober, go to meetings, complete a rehabilitation program, see a therapist, etc.

Are Both Parents Willing to Cooperate?

In most situations, the judge will favor giving custody to a parent willing to make a good-faith effort at co-parenting.

You will want to show the judge that you’re amenable to visitation, that you won’t speak poorly of your ex to the child or try to interfere in their relationship, and that you will do your best to be civil when interacting with the other parent is necessary.

What Does the Child Want?

Depending on the child’s age and sophistication, the judge may want to know their preferred living arrangement. Although the judge won’t decide based solely on the child’s wants, they will consider it.

What Does the Current Relationship Between the Child and Each Parent Look Like?

If one parent is frequently absent, hasn’t seen the child in months, or only occasionally shows up to see the child, the court may decide that joint custody isn’t the best option.

They will also consider situations where the child and parent don’t get along well or where one parent consistently fails to discipline the child.

How Do Geographic Factors Affect the Situation?

Sometimes both parties are attentive and caring parents but don’t live close to each other, or one party may be moving farther away. This can make maintaining a joint custody order difficult.

Additionally, the judge will need to consider the education of a school-age child. If living with one parent will force a child to change schools and leave their friends, the court may find that living with the other parent most of the time is a better arrangement.

Parental divorce can be stressful for children, and maintaining consistency in other areas can help make the transition easier.

Is There Any History of Domestic Violence?

New Mexico laws allow judges to weigh domestic violence situations when considering child custody, regardless of whether the violence was aimed at the spouse, the child, or any other family member.

The judge may order the abusive parent to undergo counseling, a mental health evaluation, or anger management and parenting classes. They will also consider whether shared custody is safe for the child or will be difficult due to circumstances.

In some cases, the court may issue temporary custody to the other parent and allow for supervised visits, stipulating that the custody issue will be revisited soon.

Many people leaving abusive relationships worry that they might have to share custody of a young child with their abuser. If you are in this difficult situation, we encourage you to speak with a divorce lawyer as quickly as possible.

The sooner you retain an attorney, the sooner they can start building a case against your spouse and working to prove your child will be safer with you.

How Can You Get Help Understanding New Mexico Custody Factors?

If you’re even thinking about divorce, how your child will be affected is probably a primary concern.

The best thing you can do to understand better all the factors in your case is to talk to a qualified child custody attorney. Remember that your consultation is covered by attorney-client privilege and will be completely confidential.

At New Mexico Family and Financial Law, we’re always available for a consultation about divorce, child custody, or family law matters. Please call (505) 503-1637 today so we can answer your questions and provide any assistance you need moving forward.

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