While there is no specific, uniform definition of the "best interests of the child," this is a standard that is used by courts in many states to determine many child-related issues, especially those involving child custody and timesharing.
Specifically, The best interests of the child standard is used by the New Mexico courts when family law cases involve issues like: child custody, timesharing and visitation, child support and termination of parental rights. The standard also comes up in relation to abuse and neglect cases involving the Department of Children Youth and Families ("CYFD").
In order to determine just what is in a child's best interest, courts make a number of assumptions regarding child development and family dynamics. There are several objectives and goals that influence the analysis of what is best for the child.
In New Mexico, courts have expressed the philosophy that maintaining family integrity is extremely important to a child's well-being and development. This philosophy forms the basis for New Mexico's statutory rule that joint custody is usually in the best interests of the child unless there is evidence to the contrary.
There are several factors that a court must consider when determining whether a certain custody or timesharing arrangement is in the best interests of a child. Section 40-4-9 NMSA 1978 enumerates some, but not all, of the factors that a court should consider when determining the best interests of the child in custody matters. These include the wishes of the parents and child; the relationship between parent and child as well as between the child and other siblings and family members; the child's adjustment to home, school, and community; and the physical and mental health of all those involved. New Mexico courts are not allowed to consider the gender of the parent as a factor when making custody decisions though many parties believe otherwise.
In New Mexico, to determine whether joint custody is in the best interests of a child, a court must also consider additional factors along with those listed above. Parents are supposed to submit a proposed Parenting Plan before being awarded joint custody by the court that provides all of the details of how parents will share custody and time with the child. Additional factors that courts may consider when awarding joint custody include: the bonds that the child and each parent have developed, the ability of each parent to provide adequate care for the child during each period of responsibility, and the willingness of each parent to accept the responsibilities of caring for the child and not intruding in the other parent's rights. The court will also consider the geographic distance between the parents and their ability to communicate and cooperate on issues involving the child. In complicated cases, the court will often appoint a custody evaluator, Guardian Ad Litem, or other expert in order to provide professional opinions as to what is in the child's best interest.
The main goal of New Mexico family courts is to do what is best for the child and to make decisions that will likely promote the child's emotional, physical, and mental well-being. It is important for parents to understand this standard in order to formulate realistic expectations involving child custody and placement issues. Above all, parents involved in a custody dispute must remember to put their child's needs first; if they fail to do so, the court will certainly remind them.
Because there are so many factors involved in the determination of the best interests of the child in these situations, it is generally advisable if possible to have the assistance of an experienced child custody attorney.