How Domestic Violence Affects Child Custody in Louisiana

Learn about domestic violence and how it impacts child custody in Louisiana.

Studies have shown that four in 10 female victims of domestic violence live in homes with children under age 12. Domestic violence puts children at physical risk and also causes them psychological harm. For this reason, the state of Louisiana has extensive laws allowing judges to consider domestic violence when deciding custody.

This article explains how Louisiana law defines domestic violence and how it affects custody decisions. If you have additional questions after reading this article, you should consult a local family law attorney for help.

Child Custody in Louisiana

In custody cases, Louisiana courts determine “legal custody,” which refers to which parent has the responsibility to make decisions regarding the child’s education, medical care, religion, and extracurricular activities, and “physical custody,” which refers to the child’s living arrangement and visitation schedule with his or her parents.

The court will decide both legal and physical custody based on what is in the child’s best interests. Judges will consider all relevant factors, including:

  • the child’s relationship with each parent
  • each parent’s ability to provide the child with love, affection, spiritual guidance, and continue the child’s education
  • each parent’s ability to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, and other needs
  • the length of time the child has lived in his or current environment
  • the stability of parents’ homes
  • each parent’s mental and physical health
  • the child’s home, school, and community history
  • the child’s wishes, if the child is old enough to have an opinion
  • the distance between the parent’s homes
  • each parent’s willingness to encourage a relationship between the child and other parent
  • each parent’s history of caring for the child, and
  • each parent’s moral fitness, including history of domestic violence.

What is Domestic Violence?

Louisiana law defines domestic violence as physical or sexual abuse between family members, household members, and dating partners. If individuals used to be family members, household members, or dating partners in the past, courts still consider physical or sexual abuse between them as domestic violence.

What to Do When There is Domestic Violence

If you have recently experienced domestic violence or are in immediate fear of violence against you or your children, you should dial 911.

If you or your minor children have experienced domestic violence in the past and are afraid of future abuse, you should obtain a “Temporary Restraining Order,” or “TPO.” Courts issue restraining orders when necessary to protect a parent or child from an abusive parent. A TPO may include the following:

  • prohibit the abusive parent from abusing, harassing, or interfering with the other parent or child
  • order the abuser to stay away from the victim parent and child’s home
  • award the victim parent use of a home, automobile, or other property
  • grant the victim parent custody of any children, and
  • award the victim parent possession of any pets.

To apply for a restraining order, visit the district court clerk’s office for your parish and ask for the forms to apply for a “Domestic Abuse Restraining Order.” You’ll complete the forms and file them with the clerk, who will take your forms to a judge to review. If the judge believes you are in danger, he or she will issue a temporary restraining order, lasting until a hearing that the court will schedule within 21 days.

Both parents must attend the restraining order hearing. If the judge believes that you are in danger after the hearing, he or she will issue a restraining order lasting up to 18 months. The court can extend the restraining order, if necessary, at the end of 18-month period. If the abusive parent violates the restraining order, he or she can be incarcerated or fined.

The Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence has a 24-hour hotline for abuse victims, as well as other information on their website. The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services also has information on their website, and a list of domestic violence shelters across the state.

Impact of Domestic Violence on Custody Decisions

Louisiana judges begin custody decisions with the presumption that no parent with a history of committing domestic violence should receive custody of a child. At the beginning of every custody case, each parent must notify the court of either parent’s other court proceedings involving domestic violence, protective orders, or termination of parental rights.

Courts consider there to be a history of domestic violence if there is more than one incident of domestic violence, or one incident of domestic violence that caused a serious injury.

Before a court will grant an abusive parent custody or visitation, that parent must:

  • complete a domestic violence treatment program
  • refrain from abusing alcohol or using illegal drugs, and
  • prove that visitation or custody would be in the child’s best interests.

If both parents have a history of domestic violence, the court will award custody to the parent less likely to be abusive in the future.

In all child custody cases involving domestic violence, the court will issue a “Uniform Abuse Prevention Order” prohibiting a parent from committing further abuse. If a parent violates the abuse prevention order, he or she loses all visitation privileges.

If the court finds that a parent has sexually abused his or her children, the court typically won’t grant the abusive parent visitation at all. The court can only allow a sexually abusive parent to have supervised visitation, and only after:

  • the abusive parent completes a sexual abuser program, and
  • the judge believes supervised visitation is in the child’s best interests.

The court will never grant visitation to a parent convicted of rape when that rape conceives the child at issue. Also, if a parent intentionally caused the death of the other parent, that parent won’t receive any visitation with his or her child.

Visitation Restrictions

Courts will also restrict visitation and require parents to follow certain conditions during visitation when a parent has committed domestic violence. The court may:

  • expedite court proceedings
  • order an abusive parent to undergo a medical evaluation
  • order an abusive parent to complete counseling
  • order that visitation with the abusive parent be supervised.

The court may award supervised visitation to a parent with a history of domestic violence, only after a parent completes a domestic violence treatment program.

Termination of Parental Rights

In extreme cases, Louisiana courts may terminate a parental rights. The judge may terminate parental rights when:

  • a parent is convicted of murder or unjustified killing of the other parent
  • a parent committed extreme abuse against a child, including murder, rape, incest, sodomy, torture, or starvation, or
  • a parent has abused or neglected a child, causing that child a serious physical or psychological injury.

If you have other questions about domestic violence and child custody in Louisiana, contact a local family law attorney.

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