Determining the Best Interests of the Child - New Mexico

Date: September 2023

Guiding Principles

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 32A-1-3

It is the intent of the legislature that, to the maximum extent possible, children in New Mexico shall be reared as members of a family unit.

The Children's Code shall be interpreted and construed to effectuate the following legislative purposes:

  • To provide for the care, protection, and wholesome mental and physical development of children coming within the provisions of the code and then to preserve the unity of the family whenever possible 
  • To provide a continuum of services for children and their families, from prevention to treatment, considering whenever possible prevention, diversion, and early intervention, particularly in the schools
  • To provide children with services that are sensitive to their cultural needs
  • To reduce overrepresentation of minority children and families in the juvenile justice, family services, and abuse and neglect systems through early intervention, linkages to community support services, and the elimination of discrimination
  • To provide for the cooperation and coordination of the civil and criminal systems for investigation, intervention, and disposition of cases; to minimize interagency conflicts; and to enhance the coordinated response of all agencies to achieve the best interests of a child victim
  • To provide continuity for children and families appearing before the children's court by ensuring that, whenever possible, a single judge hears all successive cases or proceedings involving a child or family

A child's health and safety shall be the paramount concern. Permanent separation of a child from the child's family, however, would especially be considered when the child or another child of the parent has suffered permanent or severe injury or repeated abuse.

Best Interests Factors

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 32A-4-22

At a dispositional hearing, the court shall make and include in the dispositional judgment its findings on the following:

  • The interaction and interrelationship of the child with the child's parent, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interests
  • The child's adjustment to their home, school, and community
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved
  • The wishes of the child's parent, guardian, or custodian as to the child's custody
  • Whether consideration has been given to the child's familial identity and connections
  • Whether the child has a relative or other individual who, after study by the Children, Youth, and Families Department, is found to be qualified to receive and care for the child
  • The availability of services recommended in the case plan 
  • The ability of the parent to care for the child in the home so that no harm will result to the child
  • Whether reasonable efforts were made by the department to prevent removal of the child from the home prior to placement in substitute care and whether reasonable efforts were made to attempt reunification of the child with the natural parent

Other Considerations

Citation: Ann. Stat. §§ 32A-1-3; 32A-4-22; 32A-28-36

The Children's Code shall be interpreted and construed to provide judicial and other procedures through which the provisions of the code are executed and enforced and in which the parties are assured a fair hearing and their constitutional and other legal rights are recognized and enforced.

At a dispositional hearing, the court may consider the following:

  • The wishes of the child as to their placement
  • Whether the department made reasonable efforts to do the following:
    • To place siblings in custody together, unless such joint placement would be contrary to the safety or well-being of any of the siblings in custody
    • To provide to any siblings not jointly placed opportunities for reasonable visiting or other ongoing interaction, unless visiting or other ongoing interaction would be contrary to the safety or well-being of any of the siblings

The court may order reasonable visiting between a child placed in the custody of the department and the child's siblings or any other person who may significantly affect the child's best interests, if the court finds the visits to be in the child's best interests.

When deciding the best interests of an Indian child pursuant to the Indian Family Protection Act, a court shall, after allowing testimony from all parties and the Indian child's Tribe, consider the following relevant factors:

  • The prioritization of placement of the Indian child in accordance with the placement preferences provided by the Indian Family Protection Act
  • The prevention of unnecessary out-of-home placement of the Indian child
  • The critical importance to the Indian child of establishing, developing, or maintaining a political, cultural, social, and spiritual relationship with the Indian child's Tribe and Tribal community and with familial ties such as clanship and family with unique cultural characteristics
  • The importance to the Indian child of the ability of the Indian child's Tribe to maintain its existence and integrity in promotion of the stability and security of Indian children and families
  • The protection, safety, and well-being of the Indian child