Divorcing couple going through child custody process

Who Has Jurisdiction in Child Custody Matters?

By Bob Matteucci

In most cases, parents share joint custody of their children. However, situations may arise that impact custody. For example, parents may decide to divorce or separate. One parent may decide to relocate. In these cases, which parent retains physical and legal custody of the child? Some parents work with a New Mexico family law attorney to develop a custody and time-sharing agreement. 

However, the courts in New Mexico have jurisdiction in child custody matters. Judges review custody and time-sharing agreements to ensure that the agreement’s terms are in the child’s best interest. In disputed custody cases, the judge has jurisdiction to decide custody issues based on the best interest of the child. 

Which Court in New Mexico Has Jurisdiction of a Custody Matter?

Jurisdiction is the power of a court to make a decision in a legal matter before the court. The Judicial District Court of New Mexico has jurisdiction over cases involving children living within the state. Each court covers a specific area within the state. Typically, the county in which the child resides determines the jurisdiction for custody matters.

However, jurisdiction can become complicated when parents relocate. The New Mexico Supreme Court settled this matter with a ruling in the case of Dugie v. Cameron

In that case, the original custody decision was made in the Second Judicial District Court. However, the children relocated with one parent to a home in the Sixth Judicial District Court after the initial custody decision. The Supreme Court found that the court that issued the initial child custody decision continues to have jurisdiction over all child custody matters in that case. 

Jurisdiction for Child Custody Matters Involving Native American Children in New Mexico

New Mexico is home to a large Native American population. Given that fact, it is not surprising that Native American children are the subject of child custody disputes. Some children live on Native American reservations, but many children live off-reservation throughout New Mexico. 

Child custody proceedings involving Native American children are governed by the Indian Children Welfare Act (ICWA). Congress enacted the ICWA in 1978. Tribes have exclusive jurisdiction of child custody matters involving Native American children that reside on a reservation. Tribal court decisions carry the same weight as decisions from New Mexico state courts.

When children do not reside on a reservation, the matter is transferred to tribal court. The tribal court can decline jurisdiction, or a parent may object to the transfer to tribal court. 

When a state court judge hears child custody matters involving Native American children, New Mexico law and the ICWA require that the child’s custodian and the tribe receive notice of the proceeding. The tribe or the custodian may intervene in the case at any point.

Schedule a Consultation With A New Mexico Family Law Attorney

Child custody issues can be stressful, frightening, and emotional. Bob Matteucci and his staff are here to help you through this challenging period. If you have questions about child custody matters, contact him today.

About the Author
Bob Matteucci is a board certified family law specialist, with a statewide practice in the area of divorce and family law.