No one ever thinks they will get a divorce when they are first married; however, divorce does occur, and the dissolution of a marriage may be even more difficult to face when there are children involved. It is the job of the family court to decide what custody arrangement will be in the best interest of the child or children. In order to make such a determination, the court must consider a number of different factors.
If both parents have stable jobs, are able to provide a stable home, and meet all of their child’s needs, then it is more than likely that they will be awarded joint custody. Joint custody simply means that both parents must make all decisions regarding the child (or children) together. Additionally, it means that the children will spend a significant portion of their time with each parent.
Declaring a Parent Unfit
Joint custody would be the optimal outcome in a custody dispute if that’s what both parents want; however, things are not always quite that simple. It is possible the court will decide that one or both parents are unfit. When determining whether a parent is unfit, the court will consider factors such as:
- A parent’s willingness to communicate and be reasonable throughout the custody dispute
- A parent’s ability to recognize and provide for the child’s needs
- Whether a parent has a history of child abuse allegations or involvement with Child Protective Services
- Addictions or psychiatric diagnoses
- Reports of domestic violence
- How the child feels about the parent
Child Custody Evaluator
In most cases, family court will enlist the services of a Child Custody Evaluator in order to provide a subjective opinion on what custody situation is in the best interest of the child. The Child Custody Evaluator will conduct interviews with all children involved, both parents, and family members, if necessary. The Evaluator will review the history, if any, of the parents with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and will observe the interaction between the parent and the child. Psychological testing on any or all of the parties involved may also be ordered to give further insight into the mental health and stability of the parent or the child.
History of Abuse
Allegations of abuse in a parent’s history are relevant to the court’s decision. However, just because Child Services has prior involvement with a parent does not mean an investigation resulted in a finding of abuse or neglect. Involvement does not even mean an official investigation took place.
Abuse also does not only mean abuse or neglect perpetrated by a parent against a child. What many parents do not realize is that a child witnessing domestic violence constitutes child abuse in and of itself. The court will examine all allegations or instances of abuse or neglect in making its final determination.
In Louisiana, it is possible that the court will find both parents unfit. In those cases, custody could be awarded to a third party, such as a relative or family friend.
If one or both of the parents are declared unfit, it is still possible the court will allow the parent to have supervised visitation with the child.
Child custody law can be difficult to navigate, and child custody disputes are difficult to face alone. Be sure to consult an experienced family law attorney as you face divorce and child custody issues in Louisiana.