6 Steps to Filing for Child Custody in Louisiana

When you're ready for an enforceable plan for how you'll co-parent, open a court case.

In contested cases (i.e., when parents don't agree), most people hire lawyers. They keep your legal process running smoothly as you negotiate, and they represent you in trial if you never reach agreement.

Before starting this process, make sure you are the child's legal parent. While nonparents can receive custody, it is difficult and generally requires a lawyer.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

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1. Finding your local court

If your child currently lives in Louisiana, your case likely belongs in a Louisiana court.

File in the parish where you or the other parent lives or where you used to live together. Your case will be heard in the Louisiana judicial district that covers that parish.

Here are the judicial districts for Louisiana's largest parishes:

2. Trying to reach an agreement

Child custody is always easier when you agree on what you want.

If you and your co-parent agree before you start proceedings, you can file an uncontested case together in the next step. The court may give you an order in just a few weeks, depending on how complex your situation is and whether you've already met any required waiting period.

Write the details of your agreement into a parenting plan and file it in the next step.

3. Filing the correct forms

Your local court may provide its own forms. On the state bar association's website, you can select a parish to find your local forms. The Law Library of Louisiana provides free legal forms for some of the larger areas. We've also provided some links to forms below that are generally valid throughout the state.

If you have a lawyer, they'll create or complete your documents.


If you and your spouse have children together, custody and visitation will be determined as part of your divorce.

However, some divorcing parents petition for custody and support while they're waiting for their divorce to finalize. (See "custody and visitation only" below.) This can give the child stability during the divorce process.

Married couples with a child must live separately for 365 days before their divorce can be finalized. Fault-based divorces are exempted from the waiting period, but one spouse must prove that the other committed adultery or domestic violence or has been sentenced for a felony. Covenant marriages have longer waiting periods.

How you file for no-fault divorce depends on whether you've completed the minimum separation.

  • If you file before separating or while having been separated less than one year, you have a "102 divorce." Your case won't advance until you inform the court that you've completed the separation.
  • If you file when you've already been separated at least one year, you have a "103 divorce."

If your divorce is uncontested, courts try to make it easy for you to petition for 102 divorce (not yet separated for one year) or 103 divorce (separated at least one year) without a lawyer. Your local court may use its own forms and likely requires you to submit them on paper, although a few parishes allow self-represented people to e-file. The court may refer to your request as a joint petition.

If your divorce is contested or if you need to file for fault-based divorce, consult a lawyer — or at least speak to your local court clerk as the court may have its own forms for this.

Custody and visitation only

Louisiana provides a form for parents seeking custody and visitation who don't have a lawyer: the Self-Represented Litigant Petition for Custody, Visitation, and/or Child Support. This is for first-time orders only. If you've already received an order about parenting this child, seek a modification.

4. Paying the filing fee

The filing fee is due when you file. It varies between local courts. For a divorce, expect about $300. Filing for just custody may cost less.

If you can't afford it immediately, submit an In Forma Pauperis Affidavit. This allows your case to proceed while the court considers your request to delay payment. The court may come up with payment solutions including ordering you and the other parent to split the fee.

5. Serving the other parent

If the other parent is willing to accept papers directly from you, they can sign a waiver form before a notary saying they don't need formal service.

Otherwise, ask the court to have the local Louisiana sheriff serve them at home or work. The sheriff will charge about $50. You may instead hire a private process server if you believe the other parent may be hard to find. There are special methods to serve someone who's in jail or deployed in the military. If they live outside Louisiana, the service is called "long arm."

If the other parent can't be found, the court may appoint a curator (a lawyer) to represent the missing defendant. You'll have to pay for the lawyer's time; it can cost several hundred dollars.

6. Responding to the petition (for defendants)

If you've been served with a divorce petition but you haven't been separated for the required period, you don't have to answer until the period expires and the case can advance.

If you've been served with a divorce petition and you've already completed the required separation, you have 21 days to answer. If you don't, your spouse may seek a default judgment (i.e., get a ruling without your participation). If you want to move the default judgment along faster, you can respond saying you waive the right to a trial, and the court can issue a default judgment in as little as two days.

If you've been served with a custody petition outside of a divorce, pay attention to the deadline on the papers and respond promptly.

Preparing for what comes next

The next step in the Louisiana court process is generally a hearing officer conference. Take advantage of technology to be fully prepared.

The Custody X Change online app offers custom custody calendars, parent-to-parent messaging, an expense tracker and more.

Be prepared for every step of your case with Custody X Change.

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