A quick overview of Louisiana’s policies when it comes to child custody can be put like this: the final decision will be in the best interest of the child.
When Louisiana courts make decisions in child custody cases, the number one priority is the child’s wellbeing, and the outcome will ideally reflect that.
That being said, Louisiana has several different types of custody, with various rights and responsibilities. Let’s take a look.
TYPES OF CHILD CUSTODY IN LOUISIANA
The types of child custody in Louisiana include the following:
- Legal custody
- Physical custody
- Sole custody
- Shared custody
- Joint custody
The first distinction we have to make is the difference between legal custody and physical custody.
While they are not mutually exclusive, they are two different types of custody. Just because one parent gets legal custody of a child, does not mean that they will automatically get physical custody, and vice versa.
Legal custody typically refers to the legal designation of custody applied to the circumstance – i.e. joint custody or sole custody. Joint being some arrangement where both parents are involved in the raising of the child and sole where only one parent is involved in raising the child.
Physical custody refers to the amount of time that the child spends with each parent.
Each case is different when it comes to each of these designations. In one case, the mother and father may equally share legal and physical custody – i.e. joint and shared custody. In another case, the father may get primary physical custody of the child, while both parents share equal legal custody – i.e. joint custody and the father is designated as the domiciliary parent.
SOLE VS SHARED VS JOINT CUSTODY
In a sole custody arrangement, one parent receives primary custody of the child. This parent would have the sole legal custody of the child. This parent would not have an obligation to exchange information with the other parent regarding the child or to confer with the other parent in exercising his or her decision-making authority. Under a joint custody arrangement, the parents would have this obligation.
It is important to note that sole custody can only be awarded if agreed upon by the parties or if custody to one parent is shown by clear and convincing evidence to serve the best interest of the child.
In regards to physical custody, when one parent wins sole custody, the other parent may or may not have visitation rights. This depends on the best interests of the child.
Sole custody is a generally rare outcome in custody cases, as it tends to not be the best situation for the child. It is reserved for the most dire of custody circumstances.
In a joint custody arrangement, both parents are awarded legal custody of their child but not equal physical custody. Essentially, both parents have the rights and responsibilities of joint custodians (responsibility to confer, right to visitation, etc.) but they do not equally share the physical custody of the child. Depending on the schedules of the child and their parents, or the locations of the parents’ homes, equally shared physical custody may not always be feasible. In these circumstances, unless agreed to by the parties, a domiciliary parent will be designated.
JOINT AND SHARED CUSTODY
In a shared custody arrangement, both parents are awarded legal custody of the child and share equally in the physical custody of the child. This means that the child will spend equal time living with each parent. Both parents have the rights and responsibilities of joint custodians (responsibility to confer, right to visitation, etc.) and their circumstances are such that shared (50/50) physical custody of the child is feasible and in the best interest of the child. Also in these circumstances, unless agreed to by the parties, a domiciliary parent will be designated.
Shared and joint custody are typically more preferable than a sole custody arrangement. Louisiana recognizes that it’s important for children to spend quality time with both of their parents. In fact, Louisiana law repeatedly refers to frequent and continuing contact with both parents. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the best thing for an individual child.
WHAT IS A DOMICILIARY PARENT?
When a court decides that joint custody will be in the best interests of the child, one of the parents will be the domiciliary parent. Louisiana law defines the domiciliary parent as “the parent with whom the child shall primarily reside…” LA. R.S. 9:335(B)(2). That may be a little confusing when it comes to joint shared custody where a child lives with both parents equally, but, it is the parent who is basically the tie-breaker when it comes to decisions that are being made regarding the child.
The domiciliary parent is the one who will be responsible for making decisions for the child as long as those interests are made in the best interest of the child. If the other parent can make a case that a decision was not made in the best interest of the child, they can challenge that decision in court.
The domiciliary parent, in fact both joint custodian parents, have the obligation to exchange information concerning the health, education, and welfare of the child and to confer with one another before making any decisions. So, under a joint custody arrangement, while the domiciliary parent may make the ultimate decision regarding a child’s life, that parent also has a duty to discuss that decision with the other joint custodial parent prior to making that decision. If the non-domiciliary parent does not agree with the decision that the domiciliary parent made, then the non-domiciliary parent can challenge that decision in court.
It is important to discuss this domiciliary designation with an experienced Louisiana family law attorney. Based on the circumstances of your particular case, there may be some creative ways to best maneuver through these important designations.
STANLEY-WALLACE LAW IS HERE TO HELP YOU THROUGH THE CUSTODY PROCESS
Divorces and custody battles can be grueling processes, and it’s important to know as much as possible about these different types of custody so you can be well informed and save yourself as much strife as possible.
If you are facing a child custody battle or you have questions about the better parent standard, please get in touch with one of the experienced family law attorneys at Stanley-Wallace Law as soon as possible. We are dedicated to helping you achieve your goals and putting you and your family first.