When a relationship between parents has broken down, custody disputes over minor children often arise. Child custody disputes in Louisiana are governed by the Louisiana Civil Code, which requires that the primary consideration in child custody disputes is always the best interest of the child. Louisiana law provides that, where the parents have agreed on a child custody arrangement, the court is to honor that arrangement unless it finds that enforcing the child custody agreement of the parents would not serve the best interest of the child involved.
If the parents have not reached an agreement about child custody, Lousiana directs courts to award joint custody of the child to both parents unless the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that awarding sole custody of the child to one parent would serve the child’s best interest. A parent who doesn’t get either joint or sole custody will be awarded reasonable visitation rights as the non-custodial parent, unless visitation would not be in the child’s best interests. In extraordinary circumstances, Louisiana courts will grant visitation to relatives who are not granted custody if the court finds that visitation with the relative would be in the best interest of the child.
Decisions about the best interest of the child are always made by a judge, not a jury, after hearing all of the evidence. The factors the judge will look at to evaluate what is in the best interest of the child are listed in Article 134 of the Civil Code, and factors include:
Furthermore, if the judge finds that the child is of sufficient age and maturity, the judge will also consider the child’s preference. The child’s preference is not binding on the judge, but is one of the many factors to be considered.
These factors are not exhaustive or exclusive. The judge may consider any other relevant factors and evidence that will assist in determining the best interests of the child. The judge has broad discretion in determining what arrangements will be in the best interest of the child.