In New Mexico, parents divide child support – based primarily on the number of children who need support and the income of both parents – proportionally, according to each parent’s income. While both parents must contribute their fair share of child support, only the non-custodial parent actually makes payments. This is because the law assumes that the custodial parent spends the required amount directly on the child.
In most cases, parents continue to provide support until the child turns 18. If the child reaches the age of 18 while still in high school, however, then support continues until graduation or the child’s 19th birthday, whichever occurs first. Also, parents may need to support a disabled child for a longer period of time, depending on the child’s ability to self support.
You can estimate your part of the total amount of child support by using New Mexico’s child support guidelines. The guidelines are a set of rules for calculating child support payments. They explain how to determine each parent’s income, how custody impacts child support, and include other tools – provided by the state’s Child Support Enforcement Division – like worksheets and instructions (see the links below) to walk you through the process.
While knowing the parents’ combined income and the number of children who need support will give you a basic amount of child support due according to the basic child support schedule, the final amount of child support must include the child (or children’s) health and dental insurance premiums, any work-related child care expenses, and perhaps additional costs like those for the child’s education, or transportation and communication for long-distance visitation.
To get started, you need to know each parent’s gross income. Gross income is all income from any source before taxes. This includes your salary, wages, bonuses and commissions from your job, but also any pension or severance pay. It is also money that comes from any capital gains, annuities, or a trust, among other things.
If you are unemployed, chances are you still have income in the form of social security, workers’ compensation, unemployment or disability benefits. Prizes and alimony received count too. In the event your income varies from month to month, then use an average of the last twelve months or last year’s income tax return.
There are a few benefits that you can leave out of gross income like general assistance, food stamps, SSI, and alimony that you pay. You can also exclude any support you already receive or pay for other children covered under a prior court order.
If you think you can reduce your child support payments by working less or not at all, think again. A court has the authority to impute income to a parent who is voluntarily underemployed or unemployed unless that parent has a good excuse. For example, a parent whose disability prevents employment will not be held responsible for additional income. Also, a court will not impute income to the parent who is the primary caregiver for a child under the age of six years or disabled.
Once you have the parents’ combined income, next determine how much time each parent will spend with the child. There are a variety of ways to divide parenting time, but the guidelines calculate support differently depending on how the parents share this responsibility. Basic visitation means one parent has physical custody and the other has visitation privileges less than 35% of the time. Shared responsibility means each parent provides a suitable home where the child spends at least 35% of the year in each home.
For basic visitation custody arrangements, use Worksheet A and its instructions.
For shared responsibility custody arrangements, use Worksheet B and its instructions.
There is a rebuttable presumption (meaning, a court will assume something is correct unless proven otherwise) that child support payments calculated by the guidelines are the right amount for the child. Sometimes, however, this standard formula fails to meet the child’s needs or perhaps exceeds a parent’s ability to pay.
If you think the amount of support is unjust or inappropriate, you can request a hearing with a judge. The judge decides whether to increase or decrease the amount of support on a case-by-case basis, but must make the child’s standard of living a top priority. In other words, the judge will consider the reasons specific to your circumstances, but your child’s needs carry more weight than your own.
Once a court issues your child support order, you can ask to modify (change) it at any time based on a material and substantial change in circumstances. In other words, your income has changed due to a lost job, for example, that it impacts your ability to pay child support. If a parent’s income has increased or decreased so much that child support payments would change by more than 20%, and if the current order has been in place for one year, a court will presume that this is enough to justify a modification.
Also, every year parents must exchange financial information, if either parent requests it in writing, to alert each other of potential grounds for modification. If a parent remarries, however, then this parent does not need to disclose the subsequent spouse’s income.
In addition to the links above, New Mexico’s Child Support Enforcement Division has resources to explain the process of establishing, modifying, or enforcing a child support order. If you would like to read the law on child support, see the New Mexico Statutes Annotated Sections 40-4-11.1 through 11.5. You can also read answers to frequently asked questions here.