Family Court Services (FCS) is an office of the First Judicial District Court serving Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Rio Arriba Counties.
FCS provides education, mediation and assessment services for families who have children under the age of eighteen and who have opened or reopened a divorce, paternity/custody, or grandparent visitation case. Additionally, FCS provides mediation services for the Children’s Court in abuse/neglect cases involving children in the custody of the Children, Youth and Families Department.
The following are brief descriptions of each of our services:
Information Session on Children and Separation (ISCS)
When parties with minor children file a divorce, custody, visitation, or paternity case or reopen a case on custody/visitation issues, they are directed to go to an ISCS. A presentation is made covering the needs of children whose parents live in separate households, parental behaviors which put children in the middle of their conflicts, a brief review of the custody law in New Mexico, sharing responsibility for parenting, and the Court process, including the procedures of FCS. Parties have the opportunity to participate, to ask questions, and to schedule Mediation appointments. The ISCS is available to individuals before opening a case and also after the case has been closed. Attorneys and therapists may send their clients prior to the filing of a case if they are anticipating opening a divorce, paternity/custody, or grandparent visitation case. Individual participants do not need to register in advance to attend. Children are not permitted to attend this session. It is held the first and third Wednesday of each month from 8:45 a.m. until 10:00 a.m. at the Santa Fe Judicial Complex and is open to the public.
After the parties have attended the ISCS, an appointment for Mediation may be scheduled. Mediation is court-ordered if: A) a case has been filed involving custody and/or time-sharing issues of children under the age of eighteen and B) a Custody Plan has not been filed within thirty days of attending the ISCS. Parties may participate in Mediation before or after a case has been filed or after a case has been closed by the Court if both parties agree to do so. Mediation is set up for the purpose of having the parties work out their own custody/time-sharing arrangement with the assistance of a trained Mediator. The Mediator does not tell the parties what to do but may present options, facilitate communication and help the parties to focus on the needs of their children. Mediation sessions are confidential and neither party nor the Mediator may divulge any information discussed during the sessions. Exceptions to confidentiality include suspected child abuse or threats against the safety of another individual.Parties might attend two or three sessions, each lasting one and a half hours. Sometimes a Mediation session is scheduled at a future date to review any temporary agreements made by the parties during previous Mediation sessions. Generally, only the two parties named in the case attend the Mediation session. When one party lives outside of New Mexico or where distance is prohibitive to travel to the session, an appointment is scheduled at the convenience of the party who must travel to Santa Fe. If it is impossible for the party to be in Santa Fe within sixty days, the distant party may participate in Mediation by telephone.
In certain cases, Mediation may not be appropriate. Cases involving domestic violence and/or child abuse are examples of some types of cases which may not be appropriate for Mediation. In such cases, the parties are seen separately (shuttle) to determine whether or not Mediation should proceed or whether a Priority Consultation should be conducted rather than Mediation.
When Mediation is successful, a Custody Plan or Stipulated Agreement is written up by the Mediator and sent to both the parties and their attorneys. If the Custody Plan is not returned with signatures within two weeks following its receipt, another Mediation session or a Priority Consultation is scheduled. Mediation sessions are scheduled Monday through Friday between 8 a.m.-5 p.m. An individual fee is charged for each Mediation session that is based on a sliding scale according to each party’s income.
Priority Consultation (PC)
When the parties are unable to arrive at an agreement about their children in Mediation or when the Court judges that an immediate plan for the children is needed, a PC is ordered. If the parties have already participated in Mediation, the Priority Consultant will not be the same person who conducted the Mediation.
The Priority Consultant interviews each parent separately and makes recommendations which are sent to the parties and their attorneys and filed with the Court. Either party may object to the recommendations during an eleven-day objection period, in which case a hearing is set and the Court decides if the recommendations will be adopted or modified in any way. If neither party objects, the recommendations are adopted by the Court as an order.
PC’s are confidential to third parties outside of the Court. Many PC’s involve significant co-parenting conflicts and involve recommendations for professional services designed to assist the parents and children, such as co-parenting classes, therapy, substance abuse counseling and/or testing, and supervised visitations and/or exchanges. The Priority Consultant may communicate with the service providers to whom the parties and children have been referred; parties typically sign releases of information to facilitate this communication.
Priority Consultations are scheduled Monday through Friday between 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and last from three to four hours. An individual fee is charged for each Priority Consultation that is based on a sliding scale according to each party’s income.
Advisory Consultation (AC)
In certain court-ordered cases it is necessary for FCS to obtain more information than is available to the Priority Consultant and an AC may be conducted. This category may include cases entailing relocations or allegations of child abuse in which Child Protective Services does not have custody of the child. An AC may be recommended by the Priority Consultant, the Mediator, stipulated to by the parties, or ordered directly from the Court. The Advisory Consultant jointly and individually interviews the parents, interviews the children and any other persons living in the home, and conducts observations of the children with each parent. Generally, only one session is held, lasting up to eight hours. If a joint interview with the parents is inappropriate, separate sessions are scheduled.
The parents are requested to sign releases of information so that additional information may be obtained from teachers, counselors, child-care providers, physicians, or other professionals. Parties may submit affidavits from other persons who have information pertinent to the issues raised in the consultation. Police reports, DMV reports and other reports may be requested. As part of the AC process, the consultant may request that one or both parents undergo substance abuse assessments and/or testing, that home studies be conducted, or that psychological testing be conducted.
After the Advisory Consultant has gathered the information necessary to complete recommendations, an AC report will be written. This report includes background and current information of the parties, the issues and concerns of each parent, an assessment of the parties and their children, and recommendations regarding specific outcomes. If the case proceeds to Court, the AC report may be introduced into evidence and the consultant may be called to testify in Court proceedings. An individual fee is charged for Advisory Consultation that is based on a sliding scale according to each party’s income.
Director of Family Court Services
Stephen S. Stone, LCSW