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How does child custody work in Louisiana?

Any divorce can involve disputes that can cause the parties a significant deal of stress. An important and oftentimes very disputed part of divorce in Louisiana involves child custody. At times, this can be the issue that is most riddled with emotion.

Custody decisions are based upon a court deciding what is in the child's best interest. Joint custody is considered from the outset as being in the best interest of the child. However, either parent can challenge this presumption with clear and convicting evidence that sole custody is in the child's best interest.

When determining custody, a court must consider all relevant factors. These include the child's relationship with the parents and which parent has usually taken care of the child.

A court will also review each parent's ability to take care of the child's needs and provide guidance. Their moral, mental and physical health may also be an important consideration. The ability to encourage the child's ongoing relationship with the other parent is relevant.

A judge may consider the child's own desires. However, the child must be sufficiently mature before these wishes will be considered by the court.

Once a court-approved child custody order is in place, if a parent wants to change it in the future, that parent bears the burden of changing it. When the parents entered a custody agreement that was adopted by the court without the taking of testimony, a parent must demonstrate that there was a material change of circumstances and the proposed change is in the child's best interest. However, the burden is much higher if the judge decided the custody order and testimony was taken in this proceeding.

Louisiana courts also make decisions regarding other child custody issues. Grandparents and siblings may receive visitation rights under extraordinary circumstances and when it falls within the child's best interests.

A parent who wishes to relocate with the child must notify the other parent, and receive either court approval after a hearing or the other parent's consent. These requirements govern joint and sole custody. A history of family violence may be an exception. However, failure to comply with these requirements can have serious criminal legal consequences.

An attorney can help parents negotiate a fair and reasonable agreement. If a case goes to court, they can help ensure that the best interests of the child are protected.

Source: Louisiana State Bar Association, "Divorce," Accessed Jan. 8, 2018

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