If you’ve decided to file for divorce, you probably have a few questions about the legal process. This article provides an overview of some important terms used in a divorce and information about how to get started. If you have specific questions, you should contact an experienced attorney for help.
In New Mexico, the law refers to divorce as the dissolution of marriage, so you may see that term used in paperwork or on court websites. The spouse that files for (requests) divorce is called the “petitioner," and the other spouse is the “respondent.”
New Mexico does have a residency requirement, so at least one spouse must be a New Mexico resident for at least 180 days before the filing of the divorce. (§ 40-4-5 NMSA, 1978 (2017).)
To begin the divorce process, the petitioner must complete one of two forms: a "Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage Without Children," or a "Petition for Dissolution of Marriage With Children" (if the family has children under 19 who are still in high school).
You can find both of these forms on the New Mexico State Judiciary Website.
Once you complete the petition and an "information sheet,” you will submit the documents in the judicial district court for your county. New Mexico has 13 judicial districts, with each court covering several counties. You can find links to most of the 13 judicial district court websites by going to the state Judicial Branch website.
At the time of filing, the petitioner must either pay a filing fee to the court (payable in cash or money order) or request a fee waiver.
When you go to court to file your paperwork, it’s a good idea to bring multiple copies of the petition with you. The court clerk will stamp your copies, which you’ll then serve on (deliver to) your spouse. Service means that the other spouse will receive a copy of the divorce petition in a court-approved manner. (NMRA 1-005.)
Under New Mexico law, you must serve the respondent spouse by any of the following methods:
After serving your spouse, you should file the proof of service with the court. For example, if the respondent signed the green proof of delivery card, and the postal service returned it to the petitioner, the petitioner should submit the green card to the court clerk’s office as proof that the respondent received a copy of the divorce petition.
If the sheriff serves the respondent spouse, the sheriff will provide the paperwork necessary to prove service.
Finally, if a third party (over 18) serves the divorce paperwork, the petitioner should have that person write the date of service on an extra court-stamped copy of the petition.
The respondent spouse should complete an appearance form and a written response (sometimes called an answer) to the divorce petition within 30 days of service of the paperwork.
In the answer, the responding spouse can contest or agree with what the petitioner stated in the divorce petition. The respondent must deliver the original response to the court and send a copy to the petitioner.
Both spouses must exchange certain financial information no later than 45 days after the petitioner files for divorce. (NMRA 1-123.)
The mandatory financial disclosure requires both spouses to produce information about:
Where to find the divorce forms
The easiest way to access the approved forms for divorce is to go to the judicial branch website. These forms must be printed out to be filled in either by hand or typewritten before filing.
Some judicial courts staff self-help centers periodically, where you can obtain and complete forms. For example, in the first judicial District Court, the self-help center is open from 8 AM to 12 PM and 1 PM to 5 PM Monday through Friday and staffed by a court employee who can provide forms and procedural information.
There are also court-sponsored settlement facilitation services. These sessions offer self-represented couples a chance to meet with an experienced, neutral third party, usually a trained mediator or attorney, who can help them reach an agreement on their divorce-related issues, like dividing marital property and deciding child custody.
You can find a wealth of information on the New Mexico Legal Aid website. Additional information, including resources on how to find legal help, is available at the site for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.