One of the most difficult aspects of a divorce is deciding the custody of the children that are involved. The children may not be the parties getting the divorce, but they are affected first-hand by the decisions made by their parents and the court during such. According to a study published by the US National Library of Medicine, “children living with their married, biological parents consistently have better physical, emotional, and academic well-being.” That’s not to say getting a divorce is wrong, but it does note that when children are involved, a divorce should be handled with the utmost care and compassion for them. New Orleans, specifically, has a divorced population of roughly 9%, although on the decline; the effect of divorce on children is something that needs of critical focus. Luckily, there are several options that the parents and court can consider with regard to child custody and/or parenting time that can benefit the child/children and the parents.
The courts in Louisiana, take the well-being of the children involved in a divorce as the highest priority factor when determining custody arrangements. Whether that involves joint custody, sole custody, or some agreement in-between, this decision is not made lightly. To begin, let’s review the most common child custody arrangements:
There are four main types of child custody awarded in Louisiana:
- Custody is awarded to one single parent.
- Custody is not awarded to one single parent, but custody is split between the parents, and both parents have decision-making authority although a domiciliary parent has the tie-breaking vote for matters that do not need to be litigated.
- Can be designated as joint physical custody, joint legal custody, and/or joint legal and physical custody (which is known as shared custody when the parents enjoy 50/50 custody).
- Custody of one or some children is awarded to one parent, while the other children’s custody is awarded to the other parent. This is not common.
- Custody is awarded to someone that is not a biological parent of the child.
Within these types of custody are designations of whether that arrangement involves physical custody of the child/children or legal custody. Physical custody refers to the parent that holds the right for the child to live with them. If one parent is awarded physical custody, then the court usually set a visitation schedule with the other parent.
Legal custody refers to the parent that holds the right and obligation to make decisions on behalf of the child/children. These decisions can include where the child goes to school or church, what sports they play, and many others. It can also include the making of medical decisions on behalf of that child or children, which is why it is considered with such weight.
Upon divorce or separation, the courts will determine custody of the child, but a parenting plan is usually established by the parents involved (though the court can step in) and should explain and include the following information:
- A time schedule that splits out how much time each parent has with the child/children
- Stipulations of the joint legal custody of the child/children
- Where the child will primarily live, and
- Which parent is the domiciliary parent
Admissible Evidence in Child Custody Cases
During divorce/child custody proceedings, a judge/court can authorize the presentation of admissible evidence. To be considered admissible, evidence must be relevant and “not outweighed by countervailing considerations.” For example, in family law, evidence such as proof of a negative habit or practice by one parent, personal knowledge witnessed by one party of the other, specific character evidence regarding the parent’s emotional bond with the child/children, photographs, documents, videos, et cetera.
Intention to Relocate
Louisiana holds very specific laws with regard to the relocation of the custodial child. If that child’s permanent residence is changing for more than 60 days, then such relocation is bound by certain Louisiana laws. Only the parent that holds sole physical custody, i.e. who holds the title of domiciliary parent, or a parent sharing equal physical custody according to a court order can request to move with the minor child/children. This parent must notify in writing the other parent about the move in advance. Depending on the opinion of the move by the other parent, a trial may be necessary; but in those cases, the judge will take various details into account and make a decision based on the well-being of the child.
In Louisiana, a judge will take several things into account when determining a child’s custody arrangement. Though there is no legal age in which the child can express their opinion with regard to their custody arrangement, the courts tend to wait until they are age 12 and older. When this occurs, the court is not required to yield to the child’s preferences, but rather, takes them into account and weighs their opinions with the facts presented.
A grandparent can love a child as much as their parents do, and a divorce can affect the time they spend with their grandchildren. However, biological grandparents of a child/children that have a set custody arrangement can also ask for visitation rights. To do so, the grandparents must establish that they hold a healthy relationship with their grandchild. The court will weigh this, and all other evidence presented when making this decision.
If you are looking for a family lawyer that can help guide you through the child custody process and proceedings, contact the law professionals at Latiolais Law Firm. Emily Latiolais and her team are ready to serve you and the New Orleans and other South Louisiana areas!