Relationship breakdowns are never easy, and things only get more complicated when children are involved.
Louisiana custody cases often end up in the courtroom, and it is easy to become overwhelmed by the complexities of the legal system - especially when it involves your child.
Having a legal expert on hand can be a real help, allowing you to hand over technicalities to a professional, and focus on protecting your family during an emotional period.
Who Will Get Custody of the Kids?
This is one of the most common questions asked by parents and is usually - understandably - their biggest fear.
Most people come into our office either stating that they want “full custody” or “joint custody.” However, it’s not quite that simple.
There are two main types of custody that will be considered in these cases - physical custody and legal custody - and two main options available to judges - they can award joint or sole custody, depending on the situation.
As the name suggests, physical custody refers to the place where the child actually physically resides - their primary residence.
This could be with one parent - sole physical custody - or split in an arrangement between both parents - joint physical custody.
It is important to note that if joint physical custody is awarded, this does not necessarily have to be a direct 50/50 split - the plan can be arranged to ensure that everyone's needs are met, and to ensure that the interests and needs of the child take full priority.
For example, the parents may live close together, and so physical 50/50 custody is simple.
In some cases, it may make more sense for the child to live primarily with one parent, but with unlimited visitation rights from the other party - each family is different, and each case must be considered according to this diversity.
Legal custody essentially refers to everything apart from the child's physical home - this includes diet, medical concerns, schooling and tuition, religious practices and observances, any extracurricular activities, and so on.
Again, the judge can choose to award this to one parent - sole legal custody - or to both parents - joint legal custody.
Wherever possible, most judges will endeavor to award joint legal and physical custody to both parents - this allows a good relationship to be maintained between both parents and their child, and is typically considered to be in the child's best interests.
It is worth noting, however, that this is not always the case - if there has been a history of abuse, disinterested parenting, or other external factors, a sole custody arrangement may be awarded. A child custody lawyer can be important in all custody battles, but it is always a good idea if any of these issues are true in your case.
How Is Custody Enforced?
In the best-case scenario, both parents will be in total agreement about the details of the custody plan, allowing everything to run smoothly.
The reality, however, is that these situations tend to be a little more complicated.
If your custody plan was issued or approved by a judge, it automatically gains the strength of a court order, and becomes legally binding - this means that any violations will be taken seriously, and it will be easier to prove, correct, and punish these infractions if required.
If, however, you do not have a court order, the agreement can only be enforced if you believe that your child is in immediate danger from the other party.
If the safety of the child is not an issue, you will need to negotiate with the other parent to come to an agreement everyone is happy with. A child custody attorney can guide you in these negotiations.
Should I Go Back To Court?
If you wish to take the agreement back to court, always remember that the judge will focus on action that is in the best interest of the child - if the agreement meets these criteria, it is unlikely to change, even in court.
In these situations, seeking custody modifications through negotiation with the other parent tends to be the best course of action.
In some cases, however, the custody agreement may have been seriously violated; examples may include:
- Frequently missing visitation exchanges
- Interfering with your visitation time
- Chronic patterns or turning up early or late
- Not allowing the children to attend school, doctors appointments, or court-ordered counseling session
- Abusing alcohol or drugs in front of the child, or using in a way that compromises the ability to care for the child
It is important to ensure that you keep clear records of custody order violations if you suspect you may have to return to court - remember to include dates, times, and a description of any issues, as well as copies of phone or email records. This will help to present your case to the judge.
There are two main options available to the judge - they can pursue the complaint as a criminal matter - we will discuss this momentarily - or offer an alternative option.
This may include adjusting the parenting plan, including changing which parent has physical or legal custody, giving extra days to compensate for time lost with children, and directing the other parent to pay any costs, including court costs and legal fees.
As with all other situations, all decisions will be made in what the court determines is the best interests of the child.
Contempt of Court
In some cases, it may be necessary for you to ask the judge to pursue the complaint as a criminal matter by holding the other parent in contempt of court.
This goes above and beyond a request to change a custody order - instead, you are asking the judge to find that the other parent purposefully disobeyed the court order.
This is a criminal offense and could be punished with jail time.
Always take the time to consider whether this is the best course of action, and the implications on your child if one parent is given a criminal record. There may also be child support implications if employment is affected by this record.
If you wish to proceed, you will need to file a court document known as a ‘motion for an order to show cause and there will be a burden on the other parent to explain why they should not be held in contempt.
Do I Need a Child Custody Lawyer to Represent Me?
From our Luling and Metairie law offices, we are fully prepared to help individuals in the Greater New Orleans area (Kenner, Gretna, Harvey, Marrero, Westwego, Destrehan, St. Rose, Des Allemands, Avondale, LaPlace), as well as other Louisiana residents, with child custody issues.
Additionally, you can find many of the answers to your questions about the divorce process on our Family Law FAQs page.
Some of our most popular and helpful topics include:
- What is the difference between joint custody and sole custody?
- How much will my child support payment be?
- Who will get custody of the kids?
If you have concerns or questions about child custody and visitation, get in touch and see how our qualified, experienced team of family lawyers can help.
We know the importance of relationships in this process. We go the extra mile to ease the burdens you face during this difficult period when you need to focus on yourself and your family.
Loyd J Bourgeois, LLC has been named by Expertise.com one of the Best Family Lawyers and Best Divorce Attorneys in the New Orleans area.
Before making any important decisions, contact the LJBLegal team today by calling 985-441-3448 to speak directly with a qualified legal professional about the issues and questions specific to your child custody case. You can also contact us using our contact form.