The following article will cover:
- How child custody is determined during your divorce proceedings in Louisiana.
- The types of visitation that can be awarded by a judge or agreed upon by you and your spouse in Louisiana.
- The circumstances in which visitation rights can be denied and how it may apply to your situation.
How Is Child Custody Determined In Louisiana During Divorce Proceedings?
During a divorce proceeding or thereafter in Louisiana, the court’s primary focus is to determine the child’s best interest when awarding custody. If the parents mutually agree on the custody arrangement, the court typically awards custody as per their agreement. However, this may change if there’s a history of family abuse, or if the court determines that the child’s best interest necessitates a different custody arrangement.
In the absence of an agreement, or if the agreement doesn’t serve the child’s best interest, the court usually awards joint custody. However, if it’s evident that the best interest of the child is better served by one parent (sole custody), the court will award custody to that parent.
The court may award custody to a different person, such as a close relative or guardian, if granting either joint or sole custody to the parents would result in substantial harm to the child. This may be someone with whom the child has been living in a stable, healthy environment or someone else who can provide such an environment.
The court considers several factors when determining the child’s best interest. These factors include…
- The child’s potential for abuse, which is the primary consideration;
- The love, affection, and other emotional ties between each parent and the child;
- Each parent’s ability and willingness to provide love, affection, spiritual guidance, and to continue the child’s education and upbringing;
- Each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s basic needs such as food, clothing, medical care, and other material necessities;
- The duration the child has lived in a stable, adequate environment and the importance of maintaining such continuity;
- The permanence of the existing or proposed custodial home(s) as a family unit;
- The moral fitness of each parent, as far as it affects the welfare of the child;
- Any history of substance abuse, violence, or criminal activity of either parent;
- The mental and physical health of each parent. Notably, a parent suffering from the effects of past abuse by the other parent cannot be denied custody on these grounds;
- The home, school, and community history of the child;
- The child’s reasonable preference, if the court deems the child to be of a sufficient age to express a preference;
- Each parent’s willingness and ability to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other parent. This excludes cases where substantial evidence of specific abusive, reckless, or illegal conduct has given one parent reasonable concerns for the child’s safety or well-being under the care of the other parent;
- The distance between the parents’ respective residences; and
- Each parent’s history of caring for and rearing the child.
There is no specific age at which a minor child can decide where or with which parent they wish to live. However, a judge may take into account a child’s wishes when deciding on living arrangements.
What Type Of Visitation Can Be Awarded By A Judge Or Agreed Upon By Parents In Louisiana?
Typically, when joint custody has been granted in Louisiana, the judge has the discretion to establish specific visitation schedules. These may include weekend, holiday, or summer visitations. Parents are also able to agree upon any form of visitation, provided it doesn’t endanger the child’s physical, mental, or developmental health.
Awarding Visitation Rights
A parent who hasn’t been granted custody or joint custody of a child is generally entitled to reasonable visitation rights. The court may withhold these rights if, following a hearing, it determines that visitation wouldn’t be in the child’s best interest.
Both parents should respect the child’s right to spend time with each of them. As such, once a court-ordered schedule of visitation or custody has been established, a parent should adhere to this schedule unless there’s a valid reason not to. Neither parent should disrupt the other’s visitation, custody, or allotted time with the child without good cause.
In addition to parents, other individuals may also be granted visitation rights under certain circumstances. This can occur if the child’s parents aren’t married or cohabitating as though married, or if they’ve filed for divorce. These individuals may include:
- A grandparent, if the court determines it’s in the child’s best interest.
- Under extraordinary circumstances, any other relative (by blood or affinity), or a former stepparent or step-grandparent, if the court finds it to be in the child’s best interest. Extraordinary circumstances may involve a court’s determination that a parent is abusing a controlled substance.
When determining the child’s best interest regarding non-parent visitation rights, the court may consider factors such as:
- A parent’s fundamental constitutional right to make decisions about their children’s care, custody, and control, along with the traditional presumption that a fit parent will act in their children’s best interest.
- The length and quality of the prior relationship between the child and the relative.
- Whether the child requires guidance, enlightenment, or tutelage best provided by the relative.
- The child’s preference, if they are deemed mature enough to express one.
- The mental and physical health of both the child and the relative.
If the child’s parents are married and haven’t filed for divorce or if they’re living together as if they were married, the visitation rights of grandparents and siblings can apply.
Denial of Visitation Rights Under Specific Circumstances
In certain extreme circumstances, visitation rights can be denied. For instance, if a child was conceived as a result of felony rape, the parent who committed the offense will be denied visitation rights and contact with the child.
Similarly, if visitation is being sought by a relative and the court determines that this relative’s intentional criminal conduct led to the death of the child’s parent, that relative will be denied visitation rights and contact with the child.
For more information on Child Custody & Visitation In Louisiana, a free initial consultation with The Law Offices of Williams & Williams PLC. is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (318) 731-9182 today.