Custody disputes are complicated matters. They involve legal issues, certainly, but also intense emotional ties, uncertainty and stress. Trying to calm the waters of a bitter custody battle is no small task, but there are some constants in the process that can be boiled down to these ABC’s:
A: ALLOWING BOTH PARENTS TO PARTICIPATE – Joint custody is the preferred state of affairs in Louisiana law. Our society likes to see parents cooperate and participate in the raising of their children. Unfortunately, the reason custody cases exist is when parents disagree about how to parent their children, and even the law can’t make them see eye to eye. However, it’s important to understand that a disagreement between the parents is not a good reason for one of them to withhold a child from the other. Both parents have equal rights to their children, and the law prefers to see both of them parent the child. That’s not to say there aren’t ways for a parent to lose the right to be a parent. But, to the extent possible our laws favor allowing both parents to participate in the raising of their children. Our courts will work to make that happen to benefit the child. That brings us to…
B: BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD – Our Civil Code challenges courts in family law matters to be a watchdog for the best interests of our children. It is the court’s role to make certain that decisions made are truly best for the children involved. To do that, courts use “The Best Interest of the Child Factors” in the Civil Code. Not all of these factors apply in every case, and there may be factors not on the list that also apply, but generally this is what the court wants to know about a child’s situation:
- Love, affection and emotional ties between the child and the parties
- Spiritual and emotional guidance provided to the child by the parties
- Food, clothing, medical care and other material needs available to the child
- Continuity of a stable, adequate environment
- Permanence of the family unit
- Moral fitness of the parties
- Mental and physical health of the parties
- Home, school and community history of the child
- The child’s preference, if he’s old enough to have one
- Each party’s willingness to help and encourage the child to have a close and continuing relationship with the other party
- Distance of the parties’ residences
- The care and rearing previously exercised by each party
C: CONSENT JUDGMENT OR COURT-ORDERED CUSTODY – When parents are able to agree, it is not necessary that a judge decide where a child lives or how often he visits with a parent. The parties can create their own guidelines for custody and visitation in the form of a Consent Judgment. The Consent Judgment basically sets out the law as it relates to the parties – the parents get to make the rules they believe are fair for their situation. If things change at a later date, the parties may still be able to go to court and ask the judge to make a decision.
If the parties are unable to agree and a Consent Judgment is not the best solution for them, the parties can go before a judge, or a hearing officer in some parishes, and the court can decide using the Best Interest of the Child Factors outlined above, along with any other evidence the parties are able to present. If things change at a later date, however, it is much harder to get a court-ordered custody arrangement changed than if the parties had a judgment entered into by consent of the parties.
D: DECIDE TO CONTACT LIZ – I’ll throw in one more step – give me a call at (504) 330-5522 if you have a custody question. I will be happy to sit down with you and help you make a plan that fits your situation. It is always my hope that parents can find some middle ground for the benefit of their children, but when necessary the courts are here to make certain that the rights of parents, and their responsibilities toward their children, are maintained and respected.