Debunking Common Custody Myths: Age of Choice and Discrediting Exes

Divorce couple at the lawyer's office

The myths surrounding the legal system and court proceedings are a dime a dozen. Believing in them and basing your entire argument on these courtroom myths can cost you your case. It’s important to make sure your knowledge of the legal proceedings is based on fact to prepare a proper defense, reduce case-related stress, and facilitate the litigation process.

Finalized divorces in New Mexico involve establishing child custody and creating a court-approved parenting plan. However, deciding on child custody can be a particularly contentious court proceeding. Make sure to consult a Santa Fe child custody attorney to avoid any misunderstandings and further issues when fighting for a custody victory.

Not Withstanding Age and Feelings

One popular and damaging child custody myth is that children who reach the age of choice can have the final decision regarding their custody arrangement. That’s not true.

Age of choice is often set at 14 years old. Some parents mistakenly believe that once their child reaches 14 years, it is their choice which parent they want to live with. Some may even try to use this to their favor and influence the child to choose them using promises of benefits, such as no more curfew or new material things like a car or gadget.

However, judges are only required to consider the child’s desires and feelings. They aren’t obligated to follow the child’s wishes, although the opinion of children ages 14 and older weigh more than those who are younger. All states (except Massachusetts) recognize the age of choice as the age children start to have firmer feelings regarding their parents’ divorce.

A child’s opinion holds weight in custody proceedings, but the judge may still override their wishes if they find that the parent the child chose to live with is unfit. Your child’s preference is likely to matter more if you and your ex-spouse are both equally capable of providing for your child and meeting their best interests. Take note, the judge still holds the final say in any custody decision.

Doing More Harm than Good

Divorced couple settling papers

Maintaining a degree of calm during court cases, particularly child custody battles, is common sense. Yet couples can still forget this courtesy in the heat of the moment. Some may even deliberately try to make their former partner appear worse in a misguided attempt to make themselves appear better and win their case.

Consistent name calling, bashing, and listing an ex-spouse’s faults may reflect poorly on you more, rather than on your spouse. More importantly, it can harm your case and cause you to lose custody of your child, especially if your former partner remains calm and collected all throughout.

Focusing on their faults (especially non-parenting-related ones) and resorting to badmouthing can make you lose sight of your child’s best interests — which is also the most important factor for the judge. While having a skilled lawyer may help you secure a favorable result, not engaging in uncivilized conduct during the proceedings can hasten the process and reduce complications.

Many underlying factors influence the court’s custody decision. Aside from the wishes of both the parents and the child, New Mexico courts also consider the parent-child relationship, the custodial environment, and the mental and physical health of all parties.

Goodwill, maturity, and highlighting your competence in providing for your child (without undermining your ex) is a more effective tactic to take in custody battles.

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