Louisiana Child Custody & Visitation: Laws, Rights & More

In Louisiana, custody of a minor child is determined as part of divorce or a case between unmarried parents.

If at all possible, work toward a custody agreement covering how you'll cooperate to raise your child. When you agree on what you want and show the court a detailed plan, the court will grant it as long as it serves your child's best interests. Mediation may help you reach agreement.

If you can't agree, you'll head to trial.

Whether you reach agreement on these issues or have them decided at trial, you'll get an enforceable court order defining who will have legal and physical custody, where your child will live, and who will pay what amount of child support.

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

Make My Louisiana Plan Now

Who may seek custody

Either parent may seek custody of the child.

Residency requirement

You can file for divorce in Louisiana if at least one of you has lived in the state for at least six months.

If you're not married to the other parent, you can file for child custody in Louisiana if your child has lived there for at least six months (or since birth, if an infant).

Legal parents

Birth mothers are automatically legal parents (except when they have agreed to be a surrogate).

When the mother is married to a man at the time of the conception or birth, her husband is the legal father.

When the mother is unmarried at the time of the conception or birth, either parent may seek to establish the father.

The same-sex partner of a biological parent generally needs to adopt the child to become a legal parent.


Nonparents may get custody if both parents agree to it or if a court orders it for the child's well-being. These nonparents are usually relatives of the child.

As long as at least one parent has custody, it's rare for a court to grant a nonparent the right to visit the child. If a parent goes to jail or dies, their parents (the child's grandparents) or the child's sibling may get visitation rights. The court may also grant visitation to grandparents or siblings when there's an "extraordinary circumstance," e.g., a parent's substance addiction, during the parents' divorce or separation.

Types of custody

Though you'll often hear the term custody on its own, it has two components. Legal custody determines who makes major decisions about the child (e.g., healthcare or education). Physical custody determines with whom the child lives. Either can be awarded to one parent (sole) or to two parents to share (joint).

Joint legal custody

In this arrangement, parents consult each other about major decisions.

This responsibility is described in a Joint Custody Implementation Plan (JCIP), also called a custody agreement or parenting plan, often written with the help of a lawyer and then approved by a judge. The court may spell out what type of decisions each parent can make, which can be helpful for parents who don't cooperate well.

The parent who has more overall parenting time is usually named as the domiciliary parent, i.e., primary parent. If parents return to court over a decision involving their child, the court presumes that the domiciliary parent is acting in the child's best interests, and the other parent has the burden of proof when they argue otherwise.

Because co-parents can reasonably anticipate who will have the edge in court, they often tend to treat the domiciliary parent as the final decision maker or tiebreaker. Naming a domiciliary parent and respecting their role can help parents stay out of court, at least for minor disagreements.

Joint physical custody

In this arrangement, you'll get either:

  • Equal time (shared custody): This is ordered when it's in the best interests of the child and possible for the parents.
  • Unequal time: Though the parenting time in this situation is uneven, both parents will have substantial time with the child.

The court usually includes a parenting time schedule.

Sole legal custody

In this arrangement, one parent makes all the major decisions about the child. If the other parent has visits with the child, they will still be able to make day-to-day decisions during that time.

Sole physical custody

When one parent has sole physical custody, the other usually has visitation as the court wants a child to have "frequent and continuing contact with both parents." However, the visitation time is less than what the parent would get in a joint physical custody arrangement. Possible outcomes include:

  • The court orders a visitation schedule.
  • The court simply gives the noncustodial parent the right to visit, letting parents schedule as they go (reasonable visitation).
  • If the noncustodial parent is unfit, the court may order supervised visits only.

Factors in the court's decision

If parents agree on a custody arrangement, the court officially prefers whatever they choose, as long as it's in the child's best interests. This could be joint custody, sole custody or even custody by someone who isn't a parent.

If parents disagree, the court assumes joint custody is best. They'll examine your situation, but they'll order joint custody if they find no reason to do otherwise.

Judges rarely award sole custody without the consent of both parents. They'd only do it if they decide it's better for the child. One parent's neglect or abuse of the child is a reason for the other parent to get sole custody. Parents living far apart could be another reason. But exes not getting along with each other is not a reason.

Best interests of the child

The best interests of the child are about the child's well-being and growth. The goal of a custody order is to serve those interests.

In Louisiana, the court considers how far apart both parents live, the stability of your homes, your child's schooling, the emotional and material support you give your child, your mental and physical health, your "moral fitness" to parent your child and your willingness to encourage their relationship with the other parent.

On a practical level, this may involve questions about which parent:

  • Helps with wake-up and bedtime
  • Bathes, dresses and cooks for the child
  • Drives them to school and extracurriculars
  • Knows their friends
  • Celebrates holidays with them
  • Accompanies them to religious services
  • Monitors their health and takes them to the doctor
  • Goes shopping for them
  • Cleans up after them
  • Disciplines them
  • Keeps them safe

Abuse and neglect

If a parent has physically or sexually abused the child (and it's acknowledged by a judge), they won't be allowed to see the child. But if that parent can prove that their visits won't cause further physical, emotional or psychological harm, the court may allow restricted visitation (i.e., supervised visitation).

When domestic violence occurs after separation or divorce, it's addressed through Louisiana's Post-Separation Family Violence Relief Act. An abusive parent may lose visitation rights and be ordered to complete a program to regain them.


If you plan to move with the child, notify the other parent in advance (or they can use it against you in court). Do this when:

  • You have a custody order and you're moving the child more than 75 miles from the child's current home.
  • You don't have a custody order and you're moving the child more than 75 miles from the other parent.

If the other parent objects to the move, a judge will decide whether to stop you. But if the other parent doesn't object within 20 days, you're free to move.

Special circumstances for separation and divorce

Some married couples seek a legal separation if they haven't yet decided whether or when to seek a divorce. Child custody, as well as property division, can be ordered in a legal separation.

If you married someone of the same sex in another state before Louisiana recognized these marriages, consult a lawyer to help determine whether the state recognizes your marriage today. If it doesn't, you may not be able to divorce in Louisiana.

Generally, Louisiana doesn't recognize common-law marriages. Simply living together in Louisiana and acting as spouses doesn't make you married; in this situation, you can't divorce either. However, you may be able to divorce in Louisiana if your common-law marriage has been recognized by another state.

If you had a covenant marriage, you'll have a longer waiting period for a divorce. Your waiting period depends on the specifics of your case. You may seek a judgment of separation to speed it up. Without a legal separation and without grounds of abuse, abandonment or adultery, you must live apart for two years before ending a covenant marriage.

Louisiana custody laws and legal help

It's a good idea to hire a lawyer if you can. The Louisiana State Bar Association has resources for you to find legal help, including a directory of lawyers whom you can hire. If you can't afford a lawyer, see their Modest Means Directory, Legal Aid & Pro Bono Organizations and Self-Help Resources.

Especially if you're representing yourself, read the relevant laws in the Louisiana Civil Code and the rules in the Louisiana Administrative Code.

Staying organized throughout your case

The process of deciding child custody requires serious organization. You may need to create a custody agreement, draft multiple parenting time schedules, track your time with your child, calculate expenses and beyond.

The Custody X Change app enables you to do all of that in one place.

With a parenting plan template, custody calendars, an expense tracker and more, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your journey to child custody.

Take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts of your case.

Our professional sources

These professionals helped us to understand child custody in Louisiana, and they may be able to help you in your case.

Brett K. Duncan & Co.
Brett K. Duncan
Hammond, LA

Southern Oaks Law Firm
Taylor Fontenot
Lafayette, LA

Talley, Anthony, Hughes & Knight LLC
Craig J. Robichaux
Mandeville, LA

Rotharmel Shanks LLC
Tracy Rotharmel Shanks
Metairie, LA

Tranchina & Mansfield LLC
Mark Mansfield
Covington, LA

Veazey Felder & Renegar LLC
Bradford Felder
Lafayette, LA

Zeringue & Associates Law Firm
Zara Zeringue
Covington, LA

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

Make My Louisiana Plan Now

Explore examples of common schedules

Explore common schedules

Join the 60,000+ other parents who have used our co-parenting tools

Organize your evidence

Track your expenses, journal what happens, and record actual time. Print organized, professional documents.

Co-parent civilly

Our parent-to-parent messaging system, which detects hostile language, lets you collaborate without the drama.

Get an accurate child support order

Child support is based on parenting time or overnights in most jurisdictions. Calculate time instead of estimating.

Succeed by negotiating

Explore options together with visual calendars and detailed parenting plans. Present alternatives and reach agreement.

Never forget an exchange or activity

Get push notifications and email reminders, sync with other calendar apps and share with the other parent.

Save up to $50,000 by avoiding court

Write your parenting agreement without lawyers. Our templates walk you through each step.

Make My Plan

Bring calm to co‑parenting. Agree on a schedule and plan. Be prepared with everything documented.

Make My Louisiana Plan Now

No thanks, I don't need a parenting plan