Child Custody in Louisiana

Custody3The custody of minors is a common aspect of handling divorce cases.  It is not, however, a topic that pertains solely to married couples.  It is an issue that also arises between couples who have children together but have not married, and the laws that apply in both cases are the same.

Before delving into the subject, we would like to reiterate that the information disseminated here, including the following concerning the area of child custody, serves only as a very basic overview of Louisiana law.

Best Interest of the Child

When dealing with child custody, the best interest of the child is paramount. Meaning, the court will award custody of a child in accordance with the best interest of the child.  Having said this, if the parents agree on who is to have custody, the court will award custody in accordance with their agreement, unless the arrangement reached by the parents is not in the best interest of the child.

Outlined below are some of the factors that the court considers to determine what is in the best interest of the child. Such factors may include:

  • The love, affection, and other emotional ties between each party and the child;
  • The capacity and disposition of each party to give the child love, affection, and spiritual guidance and to continue the education and rearing of the child;
  • The capacity and disposition of each party to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, and other material needs;
  • The length of time the child has lived in a stable, adequate environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity of that environment;
  • The moral fitness of each party, insofar as it affects the welfare of the child;
  • The mental and physical health of each party;
  • School, and community history of the child;
  • The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express a preference;
  • The willingness and ability of each party to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other party; and
  • The responsibility for the care and rearing of the child previously exercised by each party.

Types of Custody

Before discussing some of the different types of child custody arrangements that are available in Louisiana, it is imperative to note once again that child custody will always come down to what is in the best interest of the child. If the parents agree on who is to have custody, the court will follow this arrangement unless the best interest of the child requires a different award.

Custody agreements between parents may include an agreement for joint parental custody, sole custody in one parent, or even an award of custody to a third person, a situation that arises when joint or sole custody would be substantially harmful to the child. A less common type of custody arrangement, awarded only in exceptional circumstances as courts are reluctant to separate siblings, is that of split custody, where the court places some children with one parent and the remaining children with another.

Joint Custody Preferred

If the parents have no custody arrangement devised or if their arrangement is not in the best interest of the child, the court will award joint custody, unless sole custody in one parent is shown by clear and convincing evidence (a higher evidence standard than used in most civil cases) to be in the best interest of the child.  Thus, there is a preference in Louisiana law for joint custody whenever possible, as it has been established that children need the support and involvement of both of their parents.

When joint custody is awarded, the court will render a joint custody implementation order, which sets forth things such as the following:

  • Time periods during which each parent will have physical custody of the child, in order for the child to be assured frequent and continuing contact with both parents;
  • The legal authority and responsibility of each parent; and
  • Who will be the domiciliary parent, that is, with whom the child will primarily reside.

When allocating time between parents, physical custody of the children should be shared equally, to the extent it is both feasible and in the best interest of the child.  If it is not feasible, or if it is not in the best interest of the child, the time allocated must meet the standard of frequent and continuing contact with both parents.

When awarding joint custody, courts will generally name a domiciliary parent. The domiciliary parent will have the authority to make all major decisions concerning the child (e.g. medical decisions, schooling).  However, the other parent has the right to ask the court to review these decisions. Non-major decisions by the domiciliary parent are not subject to judicial review.

It goes without saying that we are at your service if you have any questions about what has been written in these few paragraphs. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at 504-324-8716.