Child custody may be the single most emotional factor in any Louisiana divorce. Many couples are able to reach an agreement on how they will take care of their children after the divorce is finalized, but some couples are unable to put aside their anger toward each other in discussing child custody. Some parents attempt to use the question of custody as a weapon against the other parent. When mutual agreement is not possible, the parents must turn to the judge, and many parents want to know how a judge will evaluate the various factors in a custody dispute.
Every judge in Louisiana must adhere to a single standard in deciding custody disputes: what arrangement will serve the best interests of the child? The phrase “best interests of the child” is unfortunately vague, but the legislature has provided some additional guidelines that the courts often rely upon. If the child is old enough, the court will inquire about their preferences. The court will also pay attention to the mental health of the parents. Another factor is whether the child has any special needs. If the family is religious, the court will take into account how each parent will incorporate religious values into the child’s life.
All judges attempt to ensure that the child will have a stable home environment after the divorce. The child’s interactions with other family members will be considered. The court will also give great weight to whether the family has experienced any domestic violence. A parent who has demonstrated violent tendencies will generally not be awarded physical custody. Evidence of parental drug, alcohol or sex abuse will have the same effect.
While all judges are charged with determining how to ensure the best interests of the child, each judge will give the statutory factors different weight. In the end, the question of child custody depends heavily on how the judge views each parent and how the judge weighs the ability of each parent to serve the best interests of the child.