Bernalillo County Second District Court, Divorce and Custody
Bernalillo County Courthouse
The Bernalillo County Courthouse is home to the Second Judicial District Court.
For anyone going through divorce, separation, or custody issues in the Greater Albuquerque area, this is the location of your court hearings. As we all know, going to court is never a pleasant experience, and going for divorce is no exception. Divorce and custody issues can be one of the most painful experiences and to top it off the court system begins to make decisions over your life.
Navigating the court system is confusing and complicated. This is why most people hire lawyers. For those who want to go it "pro se" (or represent themselves without a lawyer), it can be hard to find information you need to make the right decisions. Having just gone through this process, I thought I would put my learning experience in writing, and some other helpful information, to aid those who are also going through the system.
(As a side note, I need to say that this information in no way constitutes legal aid. Throughout the article you will see references to the statues that describes portions of information. These are put there so you know this is not my opinion, nor is it legal advice in any way. I am simply gathering the information and putting it in one location so it is easier for others to find. As well, my experience was unique to my situation and most likely will be different than yours. Use this information as a guide, not as an exact step by step.)
See the links at the bottom of the article for a quick reference to important pages regarding the court process.
The Second Judicial District Court
The Second District Court is one of thirteen District Courts that covers the needs of the state. This is a state court that hears conflicts with state laws. It does not hear cases about federal laws or issues between states.
That said, this court is divided into four different courts1:
Children's CourtDeals with issues of delinquency and youthful offenders, neglect and abuse cases, adoption, marriages and emancipation of minors, and terminations of parental rights.
Criminal CourtDeals with all criminal cases and even covers appeals from the metropolitan court. Specifically, it does not cover domestic violence cases (unless it were to result in death). Those cases are handled by the DR Court.
Domestic Relations CourtDeals with divorce, annulment, legal separation, child custody and child support, assignment of parentage, and domestic violence cases.
Civil CourtDeals with every other type of case that is not covered by the other courts.
These are listed in order of priority, as far as scheduling goes.
As this article is about the creation, modification, and enforcement of Child Custody orders, we will focus only on the Domestic Relations Court.
Domestic Relations Court
As stated before, this court deals with all domestic matters in the state.
As a side note, Domestic Relations cases are exempt from the normal practice of holding a pretrial conference.2
The "case number" for all Domestic Relations cases is designated with the letters "DM" (and in case of domestic violence cases "DM/DV"). Following that prefix is the year in which the case was opened, and then it ends with the actual case number. This whole set of numbers and letters is also prefixed by another set. D (representing District Court) and a number (representing the district) come before.
Example: D-202-DM-201012345 is a Domestic Relations case that was started in 2010 and is held in the Albuquerque Second Judicial Court.
When reaching a divorce agreement, both parties are to create and agree upon a "Parenting Plan".
A Parenting Plan is a document that puts forth all the requirements for the custody arrangements of the child. For example, it will state if the parents will hold join legal custody (or if one parent will have sole legal custody), who the child is to reside with, and therefore the visitation rights of the other parent, as well as special holiday and vacation times to be had by each parent, who claims the child in taxes, who provides medical insurance for the child, acceptable methods of communication, transportation requirements, and plans for the child's post-secondary educational goals. It can include many other things. It usually includes methods for dispute resolution and agreements on how to raise the child considering the situation.
If this Parenting Plan can be mutually created, the order is submitted to the court for review and approval. It then goes into effect and becomes an official order that is to be followed by both parties. However, in most cases, both parties cannot fully agree on what to put in the Parenting Plan. Or, in other cases, the Parenting Plan is created, but later on a parent wants to change or enforce the order. In either of the situations, the parties must go back to court and petition the court for help.
Because of the difficulty the parties have in agreeing, the court has developed a system to help facilitate the process of reaching an agreement. This system is known as the Court Clinic.
Allowed by an official statute, the Second Judicial District has created a Domestic Relations mediation program, known as the Court Clinic, to assist the court, parents and other parties in determining the best interests of the child.3 In fact, in every case related to child issues--unless stipulated by the court--the parties must be referred to the Court Clinic. Child Support issues, however, are not handled by the Court Clinic.4
In "normal" cases, the court will follow a routine pattern through the Court Clinic program. The services provided are the following: confidential mediation, priority consultation or advisory consultation, evaluation and decision-making.
The court does allow a private organization or service provider to be used. These are way more expensive, but are also more in depth and usually more successful. The Court Clinic handles so many cases that it's hard for them to be able to devote much time to a case. There may be delays in scheduling your appointments.
The Court Clinic Referral must be filed using LR2-Form T, and must be filed by the petitioner within 30 days from the filling of the original petition. Both parties must sign the Referral Order. Once the order is submitted, the clinic will contact you with your appointment date (unless it's for a Priority Consultation, in which case you must immediately go and contact the Clinic as soon as the Referral Order is approved).
1) Confidential Mediation
This is the first step in the Court Clinic process. The Clinic has both parents come in and sit together with a Clinician. In this meeting, the parties, with the help of the Clinician, will try to come to an agreement. If the issue is regarding custody, the purpose of mediation will be to create a Parenting Plan that works for both parents, but is also in the best interest of the child. The Clinician, supposedly, has training and education about what is in the best interest of the child, and will use that information during the meeting to instruct both parents on what is an acceptable Parenting Plan for the child.
Once a Parenting Plan is agreed upon by both parents, the Clinician will write it out and submit it to the court for review and approval. The Clinic will also forward a copy to the parties with a cover page that explains the following:
"If a party disagrees with any part of the Parenting Plan, within 11 days of the filling of the Notice of Mailing of Parenting Plan, the party is to send a letter to the Clinician specifically describing the reasons for the objections and is to send a copy to the opposing party. The other party may send a written response to the Clinician within 11 days after receiving the letter. If written objections are received, the Clinician may mediate with both parties telephonically, in writing or in person to resolve the objections and/or implement the changes requested. If no mediation is reached, the Court will set a hearing to determine what, if any, further services should be ordered."5
If a Parenting Plan cannot be agreed upon, the Clinician will pass the information back to the court who will then set a hearing to determine what to do next.
Usually the next step is Advisory Consultation. A Priority Consultation can be selected if the case needs emergency attention.
2) Priority/Advisory Consultation
In this second step, the Court Clinic uses a Clinician (or several Clinicians) to evaluate the case. The official description given is:
"Advisory Consultation is a brief assessment about the parenting situation and a written report summarizing the information for the lawyers and the court, including an assessment by the counselor of the positions, situations and relationships of family members and suggestions regarding specific plans, general issues or requested action."6
By this, the court will interview and psychologically evaluate the parties involved. The Clinician will interview both parents, any spouses or significant others, and even anybody else living in the home. The Clinician will also review any documentation the parties may submit that may include but are not limited to: court records, letters, police reports, school records, and hospital and medical records. The Clinic also asks that you submit a type-written report of what parenting responsibilities you carried out since the birth of the child. They also want you to type out the Parenting Plan that you're requesting which should include visitation times, holiday schedules, and vacation times.
But before even going into the first appointment, the Clinic wants you to fill out and submit a 21 page questionnaire that they will send you in the mail. This questionnaire covers everything you could possibly think of: your background which includes the way you were raised and your relationship with your parents, your relationship with your ex-spouse (if you were married) or your child's father (if you weren't), your relationship with your child, your relationship with your new spouse or partner if you have one, what you want changed and why, and lots of other questions.
Depending on the complexity of your case, there may be a few appointments or many. At the end of it all, the Clinician will submit a report to your judge outlining what was done during the Advisory Consultation and what the Clinic suggests should be done with the custody issues. Also, during the appointments, the clinician will suggest that the parents come in to try to reach a mediated agreement again. If they do, the Clinician will submit that new Parenting Plan along with their recommendations to the court. The recommendations will include what the Clinician observed about the parents and their actions during the divorce and modification of custody. It will also include what the Clinician thinks should be done to better the child's life. If custody transfers are difficult for the parents, the Clinic may suggest the transfers take place at special organizations that are created for that purpose. The Clinician may also suggest that the parents attend co-parenting classes.
As with the other mediation, the parties have 11 days to submit objections to the Parenting Plan.
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