Child Custody and Relocation Laws in Louisiana

Learn how Louisiana courts handle custody and visitation disputes when a parent wants to relocate with underage children.

If you’re a parent, you know that your life became profoundly different after your divorce or break-up. On the one hand, you’re now free to form relationships with new romantic partners or to investigate new educational or employment opportunities. But on the other hand, your ability to pursue these promising new prospects is limited because you don’t want to leave your kids behind. If you or your ex want to move away with your children (“relocate”), you need to understand the law and what it takes to be able to start over somewhere else.

Are there special laws I have to follow?

Louisiana has a very detailed and specific set of laws pertaining to relocation. If you want to move away with your kids, or if you want to stop your ex from moving, you have to know about the laws and comply with them.

Louisiana defines a child’s principal residence as the location determined by court order or, in the absence of a court order, as the location where the parents agreed the child would live, or the location where the child has lived for the majority of the last six months.

A “relocation” occurs when the child’s principal residence changes for 60 days or more. If the residence changes for less than 60 days, it’s considered a temporary residence and isn’t subject to the relocation laws. Relocation laws apply to cases where:

  • a parent intends to move the child at any location outside the boundaries of Louisiana
  • there’s no court order awarding custody and a parent intends to move the child’s principal residence more than 75 miles away, while remaining within Louisiana
  • there is a court order awarding custody and a parent intends to move the child, within Louisiana, but more than 75 miles from where the child’s principal residence was at the time the order was issued, or
  • if the parents share equal physical custody or the court hasn’t established a principal residence and a parent intends to move the child a distance of more than 75 miles away, but still remain within Louisiana.

When it comes to parents, only the following kinds of people can ask to relocate with minor children:

  • a parent given sole custody in a court order
  • a parent who was awarded joint custody and named a domiciliary (meaning, a parent who spends time with the child in an established home in Louisiana) in a court order, or
  • a parent sharing equal physical custody in a court order.

What is notice and why is it so important?

The moving parent must notify the other parent about the proposed relocation in advance. Notice has to be written out and sent to the other parent via registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, or be delivered by a commercial courier. Notice must include the following information:

  • the moving parent's current mailing address
  • the intended new residence, including the specific physical address, if known
  • the intended new mailing address, if it differs from the physical address
  • the home and cellular telephone numbers of the relocating parent, if known
  • the date of the proposed move
  • a brief statement of the specific reasons for relocating the child
  • a proposed new schedule of custody and visitation that accommodates the move
  • a statement that the non-moving parent has the right to object and shall make any objection in writing by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, within 30 days of receipt of the relocating parent’s notice, and
  • a statement that the non-relocating parent should seek legal advice immediately.

The relocating parent is obligated to promptly update the notice as soon as possible if the facts change or new information becomes available.

The moving parent has to provide notice at least 60 days before the move is scheduled to occur. In the alternative, in rare circumstances, if the relocating parent did not and could not reasonably have known the required notice information in time to provide a 60 day notice, and if it’s not reasonably possible to extend the time for relocation, notice can be provided no later than the 10th day after the date the relocating parent has all the required information.

If a relocating parent fails to provide notice to the other parent, the following things can happen:

  • The judge can consider the failure as a factor in deciding whether to allow relocation.
  • If the relocating parent has already taken the child away, the judge can use the failure as a basis to order the relocating parent to return the child immediately.
  • The judge can deem the failure sufficient cause to force the relocating parent to pay the non-relocating parent’s legal expenses.

If the non-moving parent receives notice and doesn't agree to the move, that parent has to make an objection within 30 days of receiving the notice. The non-relocating parent has to write down the objection and send it to the relocating parent via registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, or have it delivered by a commercial courier. However, a parent with equal physical custody doesn’t have to make a written objection.

If your ex wants to move away with your kids and you object, you absolutely must write and deliver your objection within 30 days of receiving notice. If you don’t, the relocating parent can initiate a summary court proceeding (meaning, a quick hearing that the non-relocating parent won’t participate in) and the judge will then allow the move.

Will there be a trial?

Maybe. If a non-relocating parent objects to the move, the relocating parent has to set up a “contradictory hearing,” which is a kind of trial where the court considers testimony and evidence about whether the move is in the child’s best interests and whether it should be allowed or blocked. At trial, the burden of proof is upon the relocating parent to show that the move is being made and that it serves the best interests of the child. The court will schedule a trial within 60 days.

When the non-relocating parent objects to a move, the relocating parent may not take the child away from the current principal residence until a judge has made a final decision. The only exception would be if the court agreed to a request from the relocating parent to issue an “interim” (temporary) order allowing the move before there’s a final decision. If a judge gives a relocating parent a break by letting that parent move before the final disposition of the case, the order will be conditioned on the parent’s promise not to disrupt the other parent’s scheduled visitation time. The relocating parent also has to agree to return the child to the original principal location if the move is ultimately denied.

If you haven’t gotten an interim order, don’t move away with your kids over your ex’s objections. Consult a lawyer first. Moving without following the law can have very serious legal ramifications.

How do judges decide whether to allow relocation?

At trial, the judge will listen to testimony and consider evidence about whether the move is in the child’s best interests. The court has to consider the following factors:

  • the nature, quality, extent of involvement, and duration of the relationships between each parent, siblings, and other important people in the child’s life
  • the child’s age, developmental stage, and needs
  • the likely impact a relocation would have on the child’s physical, educational, and emotional development
  • the feasibility of preserving a good relationship between the non-relocating parent and the child through suitable physical custody and visitation arrangements, considering the logistics of the move and the financial circumstances of each parent
  • the child’s preference, if the child is old enough to express a mature opinion
  • whether either parent has a history of trying to thwart or to promote a good relationship between the child and the other parent
  • the parents’ reasons for requesting or opposing the move
  • the current employment and financial circumstances of each parent, and how the proposed move would affect the child
  • the extent to which the non-moving parent has paid support obligations, including child support, alimony, community property, or alimentary (basic need) costs
  • the feasibility of a separate relocation by the objecting parent
  • whether there’s a history of substance abuse, harassment, or violence by either parent, and the failure or success of any attempts at rehabilitation, and
  • any other factors affecting the child’s best interests.

The court will consider these factors regardless of whether it’s making an initial (first) custody decision or whether it’s modifying a previous custody and visitation order. A judge can only modify an existing custody order if the objecting parent first shows there’s been a chance of circumstances, meaning there’s been a major change since the last order. However, if a moving parent takes the child and leaves without the other parent’s permission, or a court order, the court can consider that act of defiance, in and of itself, to be a change of circumstances justifying a modification of the original order.

If the court needs help or more information to determine the child’s best interests, it can appoint an independent mental health expert to investigate and make a follow-up report.

When the trial is complete, the judge will apply the facts to the law and issue an order either allowing or denying the request to relocate the child. If the court decides to allow the move, it will alter the custody and visitation schedules. The judge also has the power to require the relocating parent to pay reasonable economic security (meaning, a bond) into the court to guarantee that moving parent won’t interfere with the non-relocating parent’s visitation rights.

Whether you’re asking for a relocation or opposing one, it’s important that you act in good faith. If the judge concludes that you’re proposing or objecting to a relocation for the purpose of harassing the other parent, causing unnecessary delays, or increasing the costs of litigation, a judge can sanction (punish) you, and order that you pay the other parent’s attorney's fees and court costs.

Next steps?

If you or your ex have custody or visitation rights and want to relocate with your children, you should contact an experienced Louisiana family law attorney for help.

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