Like all states, the Louisiana child custody laws primarily focus on what is in the "best interests of the child." If both parents can reach an agreement regarding who will have primary physical custody, the court will likely approve their proposed arrangement as long as it serves the child's best interests. (La. Civ. Code Ann. Art. § 132.)
If parents cannot agree on reasonable custody and parenting arrangements that meet their child's best interests, a court will have to decide.
A family court judge will want to examine several factors before deciding child custody. When considering the future of the children, the following will be of primary importance:
Louisiana law states that a child has a right to time with both parents, so if the court awards one parent primary physical custody, the judge will order visitation for the noncustodial parent. (La. Civ. Code Ann. Art. § 136.1.) A typical schedule may include the child staying with the non-custodial parent every other weekend, alternating holidays, school breaks, and summers.
Parenting time isn't always appropriate. For example, if there is proof that the noncustodial parent physically or sexually abused the child, or some other factor makes visitation contrary to the child's best interests, the court may deny or restrict visitation. (La. Civ. Code Ann. Art. § 136 (A).)
In Louisiana, the court begins it's custody evaluation by presuming that joint custody may be in the child's best interest. If parents submit a plan to the court for joint custody, it must include information about:
It is extremely rare for courts to award sole legal and sole physical custody to one parent unless the judge finds that one parent is unfit. Some examples of this could be due to:
If the court awards one parent sole physical and sole legal custody, the noncustodial parent will not have a right to have an opinion on how the custodial parent raises the child. Additionally, the noncustodial parent will only see the child if the court creates a visitation schedule.
In cases where the judge a parent to be unfit and grants sole legal and physical custody to the fit parent, the judge may still allow supervised visitation to the unfit parent, if it benefits the child in some way.
This means that the non-custodial parent, who has, for example, an addiction to alcohol, may be able to see the children, but only while being supervised by a third party, who can ensure the children remain safe during the visit. (La. Civ. Code Ann. Art. § 137.)
In some cases, neither biological parent is fit to care for the children. In those situations, Louisiana child custody laws also allow a third party to obtain custody. For example, if the children have been living in a stable and happy home with a relative or individual that has a close connection with the kids, a court may grant that person custody. (La. Civ. Code Ann. Art. § 133.)
Parents can request a modification of the child custody order. The easiest way to change the order is for the parents to agree and present a new order to the court. If the order continues to protect the child's best interest, the court will approve it.
If you can't agree, but your current custody order is no longer appropriate, you can file a formal request (motion) to the court. Judges prefer stability for children. Thus, the court will not change a custody or visitation order unless the parent requesting it can demonstrate that, since the last order, there has been a change of circumstances that warrant a modification. In other words, you'll need to convince the judge that keeping the current custody order is harmful to the child. (La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 9:355.17.)
Before you make any decisions regarding the future of your children, it might be best to consult with a legal expert. If you are seeking sole custody, there are certain reasons why a judge may not grant your petition.
Therefore, it's important to speak with a family law attorney prior to signing any type of custody agreement so that you understand your rights.