Louisiana Custody Process: What To Expect in Court

One of the most important decisions you'll ever make is how you and your co-parent will care for your child.

Most parents don't need a trial over child custody issues. You may not even need a hearing if you draft an agreement together or accept the Louisiana hearing officer's custody recommendation early in your case.

The court process can depend on your Louisiana parish, so it's a good idea to hire an experienced Louisiana family lawyer. On your own, you can still anticipate some of the steps.

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What your case will cost

If your case is uncontested — meaning you agree with the other parent on everything — you may pay only filing fees. They're likely a few hundred dollars; consult your local court. If you have a lawyer, you'll also pay them.

In a contested case, you may pay for experts like a parenting evaluator. Additionally, the longer your case goes on, the more your lawyer will charge. Experts and legal representation can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

How long it will take

The length of your court process depends in part on your cooperation with each other and the court.

When you have a child together, you must live apart for one year before your no-fault divorce process can advance.

Fault-based divorces (in which one spouse has to prove the other's wrongdoing) don't have this waiting period. These are granted when there's been adultery, domestic violence or a felony conviction.

Most divorces take at least a couple months to be finalized, even with an agreement.

A request for child custody that's not part of a divorce is called a rule to establish custody and also takes at least several months. Unless there's an emergency, the child must have lived in the state for six months (or since birth, if an infant) before you file.

Opening a case

Custody cases between parents (divorcing or not) are civil cases. They go through district court. The first step is to open a divorce or child custody case. You'll complete paperwork, pay a filing fee and formally give the papers to the other parent.

The judge will likely approve your proposal if your co-parent doesn't fight it or if both of you open a case together so your case is uncontested from the beginning. If you've reached agreement, skip ahead to "After you receive a court order" below.

On the other hand, if you don't have an agreement, the parent who objects to the custody request (often done within a complaint or answer) should motion for a trial (officially called a hearing). You'll then follow the steps below as you move toward the trial.

Trying to reach agreement

A child benefits when their co-parents work together to care for them, so Louisiana judges usually approve parenting plans on which co-parents agree. This would end your case, unless you still had other issues you disagreed on. The goal is always to serve the child's best interests.

Creating and agreeing to a parenting plan also helps you save time and money in your legal case. You can include an agreement on a child support amount.

Hearing officer conference

Many judicial districts in Louisiana use a hearing officer conference. This streamlines cases involving divorce, paternity, child custody, visitation, child support and spousal support. The details follow local court rules.

The hearing officer is a lawyer who works for the court. They may ask you to send them financial statements or affidavits, or any agreements you reached in mediation, before you meet.

Treat the conference like a formal court appearance. Your lawyer (if any) should be there, and you can't record the session or bring children. But it's not as elaborate as a trial. For example, you can't call witnesses. It'll last an hour or two. It could be virtual.

The hearing officer is empowered to make a recommendation to the judge. The officer will show you their recommendation at the end of the conference or soon after — and if you and your co-parent both consent to it, the judge will likely sign it. A productive conference can wrap up your case and keep you out of a court hearing or trial.

If one of you objects to the hearing officer's recommendation, your court process will continue. You might have a hearing to explain your objection. You can try mediation. Unless you eventually reach an agreement, you'll continue toward trial.


In any case involving a child, unless there's been domestic abuse, the court may order you to go to mediation. Your case proceedings may be paused for up to 30 days while you comply with the mediation requirement.

Mediators have to be trained. They're often lawyers, counselors or clergy people. The court can order you or your co-parent (or both of you) to pay. If you can't agree on whom you'd like to hire, the court will pick a mediator for you.

Parenting classes

In any case involving child custody, the court may order parents to attend a court-approved parenting class. This is more likely in contested cases, as the classes tend to focus on the emotional impacts of high-conflict and prolonged separations. They're taught by specially trained counselors or social workers, are between three and four hours and usually won't cost more than $25 per person.

Temporary or interim custody

Regardless of whether you and your co-parent are trying to settle, you can get a temporary custody arrangement to give your child stability as the case proceeds. For example, a judge may want a small child to continue attending the same daycare center throughout the case. In high-conflict cases, you may hear the term interim custody.

If you have a hearing for a temporary order, treat it seriously because:

  • You'll have to follow the temporary order until the judge changes it or issues a permanent order.
  • The temporary order can suggest your likely outcome if you continue to trial (although each local judge may have their own approach).
  • The temporary order will become your baseline for negotiations with the other parent.

Parenting evaluation

The court may appoint a parenting evaluator to your case and order both of you to split the cost evenly or according to your ability to pay. An evaluator is a mental health professional who interviews people in the child's life. You may be able to choose the evaluator, and you can suggest people they should interview. Depending on the complexity of your case, the evaluator could cost a total of about $5,000.

If you believe the parenting evaluator is biased, you can ask the judge for a new one (though your request may not be granted).

If you want to hire your own evaluator as an expert witness for trial, you'll have to pay for it.

The court has other ways to gather information about a case, as well. It can order:

  • Home visits from a social worker from the state Department of Social Services
  • Drug testing of either parent
  • A mental health evaluation of either parent or the child

Preparing for trial

If you're headed for trial, a lawyer can help you prepare. You'll have to follow court procedures and meet deadlines. It can take months for the court to schedule your trial. During that time, you'll request information from each other (in a process called discovery) and prepare your evidence, arguments and witnesses.


Most parents eventually settle their differences on how they'll parent. For those who go to trial, most Louisiana family trials are completed in a single day. Unless it's a complex case, each side has one hour to present their argument. If a custody evaluator was appointed, they'll testify at trial.

As part of the trial, the judge might speak to a teenager privately to hear their opinion directly. There's no set age at which the child is automatically eligible to do this.

After you receive a court order

Once you have a court order, you have to follow it regardless of whether you received it through a trial or an agreement.

Parenting coordination

If you remain in conflict with the other parent and have trouble cooperating to meet the requirements of your court order, you can ask the court to appoint a parenting coordinator (PC).

A PC can help you make decisions within the scope of your court order. They can't make decisions that amount to a change in legal custody or that would affect the amount of child support owed. Before you ask for a PC, consider:

  • You must already have a court order for custody and visitation, as a PC can only interpret (not issue) a court order.
  • You must be able to pay for the PC's time, as the court will order the two of you to split the cost. If one parent can't pay at all, the PC may not be appointed.
  • A judge may reject the request if you have a history of family violence.

A PC's term lasts up to one year, and the court can reappoint them if needed.

Enforcing an order

To make a parent comply with the order, a court may order them to post bond. It's like paying a fine up front and getting your money back if you comply.

If a parent keeps the child when it's not their parenting time, the other can formally complain to the court, and the judge may issue a civil warrant so the police can intervene. The police would bring the child where they are supposed to be.

If one parent files for contempt (due to parenting time issues or other order violations), the court may order makeup parenting time, parenting classes or mediation. A parent may also be fined up to $500, ordered to pay the other's legal fees or jailed for up to three months.

Changing an order

Even if both parents agree on a request to change the order, you must justify why you're asking to change it. When parents don't agree, the parent who submits the request to modify custody has the burden of proof.

To change a visitation order, you only need to prove that the change serves the child's best interests.

To change the custody arrangement, i.e., whether you have sole or joint custody or who is the domiciliary (primary) parent, one of these levels of proof is also needed:

  • A "material change of circumstances" for either parent or the child: If your original order was based on an agreement you submitted together, this may be the only justification you need to give.
  • Harms and benefits to the child: If your original order was based on a trial or another high-conflict hearing, the court may ask for this higher level of proof. You'll have to prove either that the current situation is harming your child or that your proposal would "substantially" benefit them.

Domestic violence after separation or divorce is 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. It's important to consult a lawyer.

Throughout the custody process

During the custody process, you may need to create a visitation schedule, write a parenting plan, keep a log of interactions with the other parent, and more.

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

With customizable parenting time calendars, a parenting plan template, a digital journal and other tools, Custody X Change makes sure you're prepared for whatever arises in your journey to child custody.

Throughout your case, take advantage of our technology to stay on top of all the moving parts.

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