If you have children and are going through a divorce or separation, you probably have questions. Don’t panic, there’s an answer for everything.
Child custody cases are not only scary, but they can cost a fortune. Not everyone has $5,000 or more to give to a Louisiana divorce attorney for legal representation.
Do you need an attorney for a child custody case in Louisiana? Probably, but if you don’t have enough money in your account, you may find yourself representing yourself in court.
This article is for parents in Louisiana who need to file for custody without the help of a lawyer. Will it be easy? Not at all, but there are resources available to help you along the way.
First, Prepare Yourself for the Hardest Task You’ve Ever Done
Filing for child custody on your own is no easy task, it may take weeks of preparation and gathering documents. You have to remember the children are experiencing the hardest time in their lives as well. Be careful not to neglect their needs while you and your ex partner go through this.
You Can Still Mediate Your Case
Just because you have determined you can’t live with the other person and must separate doesn’t mean you can’t work together on child custody. Let’s be honest; child custody is supposed to be what’s in the best interest of your child or children, not necessarily what’s in the parents’ best interest. Sure, you may not want to share your children with the other parent, but kids need both parents, so it’s smart to try to work out a visitation plan.
You don’t always have to go to court, but you should get the agreement in writing. A child custody mediator may be able to help. A mediator is a non-interested party that will listen to both sides and try to help you come to an agreement that will work for everyone involved.
If a child custody agreement is reached, it will be put into writing and both parties will sign. You won’t have to go to court unless there is an issue afterwards. Common issues include: not enough visitation, other party not paying what they’re supposed to, new love interest or step-parent not treating children properly, etc.
If Negotiations Fail, Go to Court
If you are unable to come to an agreement regarding child custody, court is your next option. Each party will present their case to the judge and the judge will decide child custody, visitation and other appropriate issues.
You won’t have to present your case to a jury, Louisiana child custody cases are heard and decided by a judge.
Prepare Child Custody Petition
You can find a Louisiana child custody form online or contact the court and see if they will supply you with one. You will have to allege in your petition the reasons why you should be named domiciliary parent over your spouse. Then you will have them served with the petition. This is a good time to make notes on which witnesses you will bring to court and what they can tell the judge.
What to Expect in Court
Court is an uneasy experience for everyone involved. This is especially true for child custody cases. There is a lot at stake and you never truly know what is going to happen. It can be even harder if your ex has their own attorney to fight for their rights.
It’s strongly recommended that you at least speak with a Louisiana divorce attorney to help with your case, even if you can’t afford them. You may find an attorney that will work with you on price or do a payment plan.
You will have the opportunity to present evidence such as documents or other related paperwork and you will be able to call witnesses. Your ex can also bring his or her witnesses and you will have a chance to question them as well. The judge will listen to each witness speak and will base their decision regarding custody and visitation on what is heard in court.
What Does the Judge Consider When Making the Decision?
Louisiana child custody law has a list of factors used when awarding custody. The court will award custody of a child in accordance with the best interest of the child. It’s what is best for the child and not necessarily the parents.
Keep in mind, parents can still agree who is to have custody and the court will award custody based on the parental agreement unless the best interest of the child requires a different award.
C.C. 134 lists the factors the court may use when determining the best interest of the child or children:
- The potential for the child to be abused, as defined by Children’s Code Article 603, which shall be the primary consideration.
- The love, affection, and other emotional ties between each party and the child.
- The capacity and disposition of each party to give the child love, affection, and spiritual guidance and to continue the education and rearing of the child.
- The capacity and disposition of each party to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, and other material needs.
- The length of time the child has lived in a stable, adequate environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity of that environment.
- The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.
- The moral fitness of each party, insofar as it affects the welfare of the child.
- The history of substance abuse, violence, or criminal activity of any party.
- The mental and physical health of each party. Evidence that an abused parent suffers from the effects of past abuse by the other parent shall not be grounds for denying that parent custody.
- The home, school, and community history of the child.
- The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express a preference.
- The willingness and ability of each party to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other party, except when objectively substantial evidence of specific abusive, reckless, or illegal conduct has caused one party to have reasonable concerns for the child’s safety or well-being while in the car of the other party.
- The distance between the respective residences of the parties.
- The responsibility for the care and rearing of the child previously exercised by each party.
The judge has a tough job of listening to the facts of your case and using the code article to determine the best interest of the child and who will be awarded custody in your case. Many child custody cases take the better part of a day to present the evidence and allow the judge to make a decision.
Be prepared for a tough battle that may not seem fair, especially if the other party has an experience Louisiana divorce attorney fighting for their rights.
You can request your child custody hearing be closed to the public if you believe there will be sensitive information released.
At What Age Can a Child Make Custody Decisions in Louisiana?
Contrary to what you may have heard, a minor child is unable to dictate which parent they wish to live with over the objection of the domiciliary parent. The preference of the child or children is one of the 14 “Best Interest Factors” the judge will consider when awarding custody. Depending on the judge, he or she may take into account the age of the child and the maturity of the child and allow them to voice their opinion. Generally, children at least 12 years old are able to voice their opinion to the judge, but that doesn’t mean the judge will award custody based on their choice.
While you can technically file for custody in Louisiana without a lawyer, it’s highly advised that you speak with one. Here’s an article that can help you choose the right Louisiana Divorce Attorney for your case.
Disclaimer: This blog post is not legal advice, nor is it intended as such. You must speak with an attorney to give legal advice as nothing on this website is to be taken as legal advice.