Louisiana courts have a preference for equal sharing of children, but actual custody may take different forms. Courts usually grant custody as either joint, sole to one party, or with one parent having primary custody and the other having visitation. A court making a custody determination will start with the view that both you and the other parent are on equal footing but will consider a 12-part test known as the best interest of the child test.
While there is a preference for equal custody, it is not always possible and when custody starts off as equal there may be reasons to request a change in custody later. Three of the most common situations that we see come up are discussed below.
1. A MATERIAL CHANGE IN CIRCUMSTANCES
One ground for seeking to change a custody order is if you, your co-parent, or your children’s circumstances change materially after the establishment of the order. Examples of such changes include one parent moving to another state, remarriage, neglect, job loss, physical or mental health problems and parental alienation by one of the parents towards the other. A parent seeking to modify custody based on a material change in circumstances will need to file a petition and present evidence of the change to the court.
2. VOLUNTARY TERMINATION
The custody agreement can also be changed if one of the parents agrees to relinquish his or her custody. A court would need to sign off on the voluntary termination and it still may not terminate a child-support obligation.
3. PREFERENCE OF THE CHILD
While the children do not generally get to decide where they live, after a certain age, judges may allow them to express their preference. The general rule for age is 12 in Louisiana but there is no hard rule on, and the court will consider other factors such as the maturity of the child. This is actually one of the factors in the best in interest of the child test mentioned above, but as the children get older their preference may change triggering a request for custody modification. If you feel your children are not in a situation best suited to their physical or mental health or education, or they express a desire to live solely with you, it may be time to request a child custody modification.
Any of the grounds mentioned above will require a petition to be filed with a court and will likely involve evidence and possibly testimony to convince the court the change is in the best interest of the child.