Can Children Express Preference in Louisiana Custody Proceedings?

Learn whether a child's custodial preference has any effect on custody in Louisiana.

When parents separate, one of their hardest tasks is deciding on a child custody arrangement for their children. Both parents may have their own preferences for custody, and each child may have his or her own opinions as well. In many states, judges must consider not only the parent’s desires, but the child’s custodial preferences as well.

This article will explain how a child’s preference affects custody in Louisiana. If you have additional questions about the effect of a child’s custodial preference in Louisiana after reading this article, you should  consult a local family law attorney.

Overview of Custody Decisions in Louisiana

The court will decide child custody in all cases where the parents can’t agree on a custody arrangement themselves. The judge considers a number of factors to determine what’s in the child’s best interest, including each of the following:

  • each parent’s ability to provide the child with love, affection and spiritual guidance
  • each parent’s ability to continue the child’s education and raise the child
  • how long the child has lived in a stable environment, and the need to keep the child’s environment the same
  • the stability of each parent’s home
  • each parent’s moral fitness, to the extent it affects the child’s wellbeing
  • each parent’s mental and physical health
  • the child’s home, school, and community
  • each parent’s willingness to facilitate a positive relationship between the child and the other parent
  • the distance between the parents’ homes
  • each parent’s history of caring for the child, and
  • the child’s opinion, if the child is old enough to express a preference.

To read more information about custody decisions in Louisiana, see  Child Custody in Louisiana: The Best Interests of the Child.

When Will the Court Consider a Child’s Preference?

Louisiana courts don’t have a specific age when they must consider a child’s preference. Each judge must determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether a child is mature enough to have a meaningful opinion. Some judges have stated that a 5-year-old child is too young to have an opinion on custody and won’t consider such a young child’s opinion at all. If the child is at least 12 years old, courts will usually give the child’s preference some weight.

Courts don’t have to simply follow a child’s custodial preference. The court decides how much weight to give each child’s opinion by considering the rationale behind the child’s preference. For example, if a 12-year-old boy lives with his mother during times when he has to go to school and be disciplined and is with his father only on weekends and vacations, he may think he would prefer to live with his father, even if that’s not in his best interest. Judges will also be wary of following the child’s preference when it appears that one parent has manipulated the child.

Judges are also interested in the reasons a child prefers one parent over the other. For example, if a daughter prefers her mother because she buys more lavish gifts or lets her eat fast food every day, the court isn’t likely to give that opinion much weight. Courts are also careful not to give much weight to a child’s custodial preference based on temporary emotions or whims. The judge is more likely to consider the child’s opinion when it’s based on factors like the child’s relationship with his or her parent, and that parent’s involvement in his or her education or social activities.

Do Children Have to Testify About Their Custodial Preferences in Court?

Louisiana judges typically won’t require a child to state his or her custodial preference in court. Instead, the court will ask the parents to consent to an in-chambers interview between the judge and child. If the parents consent, the interview takes place outside of the presence of the parents, although the parents’ attorneys may be present. The court reporter must be present to record the interview, or the court can’t use it when deciding custody.

Judges in some custody cases will appoint a mental health professional to evaluate the child. The mental health professional prepares a report for the court detailing any relevant information, including the child’s preference. This is another way to get a child’s custodial preference without putting the child through the stress of testifying in the courtroom.

If you have additional questions about the effect of children’s custodial preferences, contact a Louisiana family law attorney for help.

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