Remarriage and Child Support in New Mexico

An overview of the effects of remarriage on child support in New Mexico.

Remarriage usually changes much more than your family’s dynamics. Often, remarriage impacts child support obligations as well. A change to child support may not make you reconsider your wedding plans, but it’s important to understand how remarriage affects support. This article provides an overview of remarriage’s effects on child support in New Mexico. If you have questions after reading this article, please contact a local family law attorney for advice.

Child Support Basics in New Mexico

Parents are legally obligated to support their children. New Mexico enacted child support guidelines to help judges and parents calculate support amounts. These guidelines make child support awards more consistent and fairer for both parents.

Child support is based largely upon each parent’s gross monthly income. Gross monthly income includes, but is not limited to, a parent’s salary, wages, severance pay, tips, social security benefits, worker’s compensation payments, alimony received, and stock dividends. However, a parent’s child support payments for children from a previous relationship will be excluded as income.

Even though courts rely heavily on the guidelines, in certain cases, a judge may deviate from these formulas. A judge can reduce or increase a parent’s child support obligation if special circumstances exist. For example, a judge may require a parent who has no mortgage or has very limited expenses to pay more than what the support guidelines require. Alternatively, a judge may allow a parent with major medical expenses to pay less than the guideline amount. Either parent can request an adjustment to child support if financial circumstances change after a support order is entered.

Modifying a Child Support Order

Once an order is established, either parent can request a modification (adjustment) to child support if a substantial change in circumstances has occurred. However, prior support orders are still enforceable while a modification request is pending.

New Mexico’s child support statute doesn’t define what constitutes a "substantial change," but some common examples include the following:

  • a job loss
  • the birth of a new baby
  • a promotion or other substantial increase in income, and
  • in some cases, a remarriage.

Impact of Remarriage on Child Support in New Mexico

Child support won’t be modified simply because one parent remarries - a parent’s duty to financially support his or her child continues regardless of remarriage. Courts must balance the needs of a parent’s new family with his or her child support obligations from a previous marriage. A parent’s child support obligation may be increased if a new spouse is covering all maintenance and household expenses. On the other hand, a remarried parent with a new baby may find his or her child support obligation reduced because of the added expenses.

New Mexico Courts Don't Directly Consider the New Spouse’s Income

New Mexico law specifies that a subsequent spouse’s income can’t be treated as an increase in the remarried parent’s income. In other words, a spouse’s remarriage by itself isn’t a substantial change in circumstances. Specifically, in one New Mexico support case, the trial court erred by weighing the mother’s and her new spouse’s financial resources and lifestyle. The trial court wrongly shifted the father’s child support obligation to the stepfather by considering his income.

Still, a court will evaluate each parent’s necessary expenses when modifying child support. While a new spouse’s earnings can’t be treated as income available for child support, his or her household contributions are relevant to child support calculations. Specifically, a parent’s ability to pay child support increases if a new spouse covers all of the parent's basic household expenses. When the parent has more income available for support, a court may increase child support payments accordingly. For example, if father is responsible for $1000 a month in child support based on his income and later marries a woman who covers all of his expenses, father will have more income available to pay child support, and a court may increase his monthly payments as a result.

A Court May Impute Income

A judge may assign or impute additional income to an unemployed or underemployed parent. A court can’t assign a new spouse’s income as income to the remarried parent. However, a court will impute income to a parent who’s making a lot less than he or she should.

A judge will review the following before imputing income:

  • the parent’s employment history
  • the parent’s occupational skills and qualifications
  • the parent’s educational level, and
  • the standard earning levels in the local community.

If special circumstances exist, a court won’t impute income. For example, a court won’t expect a mentally or physically incapacitated spouse to earn more.

Remarriage’s effects on alimony aren’t always clear. The circumstances of your case will determine whether a parent’s remarriage warrants an alimony adjustment. If you have questions about the impact of alimony on remarriage, contact a local family law attorney for advice.

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