Where do the children live? When parents divorce, the custody of their children is perhaps the most important point to be decided. It can also be frightening: How do you raise children when you may not be living in the same home?
New Mexico child custody law starts with the principle that custody is decided “in accordance with the best interests of the child.” It is presumed that the “best interests” means that the parents will have joint custody.
Joint custody does not necessarily mean that each parent will have an equal financial responsibility for their children, or that the children will spend half their time living with each parent. Joint custody means that each parent will have “significant, well-defined periods of responsibility for the child.” During a parent’s periods of responsibility, he or she will have “responsibility for the child’s financial, physical, emotional and developmental needs.”
Parents who have joint custody must consult with each other on major decisions involving the child. This means that neither parent does anything that makes a major change in a child’s life until the parents agree on the change. “Major changes” are things like moving to a different city or state, changing religion or religious activities, the type of education the children receive, major medical or dental treatment, and recreational activities. Both parents have access to school and medical and dental records. Both parents may attend a child’s activities, and both parents should know their children’s schedules.
Before joint custody is ordered, the court must approve a parenting plan. A parenting plan is basically a plan for putting everything involved with joint custody into place. It will include setting out the time each parent has responsibility for the children. A plan could also include:
- Statements about religion, education, child care, recreational activities and medical and dental care;
- A designation of specific decision-making responsibilities;
- Statements about how the parents will communicate information about the children, how the child will be transported, when and how care for the children is exchanged, and how to maintain telephone and mail contact between parent and child;
- Procedures for future decision making and resolving disputes; and
- Other statements about the welfare of the children, or that may assist parenting under a joint custody arrangement.
When making your parenting plan, remember that it needs to work in your specific situation. For sample time-sharing plans, see the Appendix of our Divorce and Custody: A Guide for Representing Yourself in Court. Remember, this plan needs to meet your needs as a parent, the needs of your spouse as a parent and your children’s needs, as well. Take the time to look at how your children live now, and think of how you can make a plan that will help them grow and thrive, even through a difficult situation like a divorce. What is fair to you may not be fair to you children. If you cannot agree, mediation is an excellent option to work towards an agreement while keeping your children out of the conflict. To schedule a mediation, click-here.
Your divorce or separation does not have to mean the end of your relationship with your children. Making a good parenting plan will help you be the best parent possible.
This post is also available in: Spanish