What Does “Best Interest of the Child” Mean?

The phrase “best interest of the child” is used throughout New Mexico laws, particularly in those relating to child custody, child abuse and neglect, parentage, and even grandparent visitation. Most people encounter the term in relation to child custody, where it has a very specific, well-defined meaning.

Under New Mexico law, a judge must make custody decisions for children under age 14 based on what is in the “best interest of the child.” Additionally, for minor children of all ages, there is an initial presumption that awarding joint custody to both parents is in the child’s best interests.

Two separate laws set forth factors for judges to consider when they are deciding what is in a child’s “best interest.”

First, the law gives nine factors to use in determining whether joint custody will be in the best interests of the child:

  • the closeness of the child’s relationship with each parent;
  • each parent’s capability to provide adequate care;
  • each parent’s willingness to parent responsibly;
  • how the child “can best maintain and strengthen a relationship” with each parent “and whether the child’s development will profit” from each parent’s involvement;
  • each parent’s ability to “allow the other to provide care without intrusion”;
  • “the suitability of a parenting plan for the implementation of joint custody”;
  • the distance between the two parents’ homes;
  • the parent’s ability to communicate, cooperate, and agree on issues relating to the child; and
  • whether either of the parents has been found to have committed domestic abuse against the child, the child’s parent, or another household member.

If the child is under the age of 14, the law provides five additional factors for consideration:

  • the parents’ wishes;
  • the child’s wishes;
  • the child’s relationship with his or her parents, siblings, and others who may affect his or her best interest;
  • “the child’s adjustment to his home, school and community”; and
  • the health condition of everyone involved.

When joint custody is awarded, each parent has specific legal rights and responsibilities with regard to the child.

In making a custody award, the law requires the judge to specifically “state in [the] decision [the] basis for granting or denying the request for joint custody.” Although the guiding star is the “best interests of the child,” the judge’s decision must have specific reasons; it cannot simply say that the decision is best for the child.

An experienced New Mexico family lawyer can help you understand the how the “best interest” standard will apply in the facts underlying your New Mexico divorce proceeding. If you have questions, contact the Lightning Legal Group. We’ll help you get the best result possible for you and your children. Contact us today at (505) 247-2390 for experienced legal advice.

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