Termination of Joint Legal Custody in NM: Why and How?

New Mexico is one of the few states that presumes that joint legal custody is in the best interest of a child. With a joint legal custody arrangement, each parent has significant periods of responsibility for the child and the parents work together to make major decisions about the child. But what happens when one of the parties asks to terminate joint custody? How do courts handle that situation?

In making their initial determination about custody, New Mexico courts use the “best interest of the child” standard. Many factors go into this determination. You can read more about those factors at our earlier blog here.

New Mexico courts only have legal authority to terminate a joint custody order when “there has been a substantial and material change in circumstances affecting the welfare of the child, . . . such that joint custody is no longer in the best interest of the child.” In other words, there must have been a major change and joint custody must no longer be best for the child.

To decide whether this standard is met, the court will compare the circumstances before the joint custody order was entered with the current circumstances. The court will also look at the factors that impact custody decisions and joint custody orders.

In addition, if the parents cannot agree about major changes in a child’s life, New Mexico law gives courts the right to terminate joint custody to resolve the dispute, giving sole custody to one parent. For this to happen, the disagreement either must be over a major issue or must be ongoing.

An order of joint legal custody cannot be terminated unless the court follows procedural safeguards to protect the parties’ interests. Both parties must be given legal notice of when the issue will come before the court. This way, they can attend the hearing and bring their attorney with them to advocate on their behalf.

At the hearing, the parties will be allowed to put on evidence about whether there has been a “substantial and material change in circumstances” and, if so, whether joint custody is still in the best interest of the child. If either parent opposes terminating joint custody, the court must state why it is doing so.

If you need an attorney to pursue your interests in a custody or marital dissolution proceeding, contact the Lightning Legal Group. We have extensive experience in New Mexico family law, including child custody, and we’ll stay beside you every step of the way. Call us today: (505) 247-2390.

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