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Modifying or Changing Child Custody Judgments in Louisiana

Authored By: Lagniappe Law Lab

Information on When to File and What is Needed

 

When to File

In general, a person should only file a request for the Court to change custody after a significant change has occurred that impacts the child.  The change must have occurred after the date of the previous or prior custody judgment. The "previous" or "prior" custody judgment means the last judgment entered by the Court.  The prior judgment will be the judgment in effect at the time that a parent asks the Court to make a change. 

Courts prefer stability when it comes to custody orders. Since changing custody introduces instability in a child's life, the person asking the Court to change the custody has the burden to prove why the change should be made.

What is Needed

What is needed to change custody depends on how the previous custody order was decided.  Judgments are decided in two ways:

  1. by the parties' agreement or consent (settlement) or
  2. by the judge after a contradictory hearing (trial). 

If you aren't sure how the previous judgment was decided, read the Custody Judgment carefully to find out. 

Consent Judgment

If the previous custody order was decided by an agreement between the parties (settlement or compromise), it is called a consent judgment. The requirements to change a previous custody judgment by consent are less burdensome to prove. Click the tab at the top of the page titled "Consent Judgments," for more information.

Considered Judgment

If the previous custody order was decided by the judge after a hearing or trial, it is called a "considered" judgment.  Since the Court spent time on a trial, and because evidence was entered to show the previous custody judgment was in the best interest of the children at the time it was entered, this kind of judgment is harder to change. Click the tab at the top of the page titled "Considered Judgments," for more information.


 

 

Information on Where to File

 

Where to File 

The appropriate place to file for a change in custody depends on which court issued the judgment that will be modified. 

Custody Judgments Rendered by Louisiana District Courts

In a civil case between two parents or a non-parent and a parent, a person can file for a change of custody in the following parishes:

  1. the parish where the person awarded custody is domiciled or

  2. in the parish where the custody decree was rendered.

If the person awarded custody is no longer domiciled in the state, the proceeding for change of custody may be brought in the parish where the person seeking a change of custody is domiciled or in the parish where the custody decree was rendered.

Custody Judgments Rendered by Louisiana Juvenile Courts

If the custody order at issue was rendered by a juvenile court, see this article on Child Custody and Juvenile Court Jurisdiction

Custody Judgments Rendered by Out-of-State Courts

Before a Louisiana court will consider a request to modify an out-of-state custody order, the custody judgment must first be registered with a Louisiana court.

Changing Consent Judgments

 

Changing A Consent Judgment of Custody

When a case reaches a settlement or compromise, and the Court does not hear or accept any evidence about each parent's ability to take care of the children, the resulting custody order is a consent judgment or consent decree.

Standard for Modifying a Consent Judgment

To modify a consent order of custody, the parent seeking to change the custody arrangement must show two (2) things: 

  • (1) there has been a material change in circumstances since the date of the most recent custody order; AND 

  • (2) the proposed change in custody is in the best interest of the children. 

Both of the "elements" must be proven for the Court to make a custody change. 

Material Change in Circumstances

First, the person asking the Court to change the custody arrangement must show that after the custody judgment was entered, something happened that changes the circumstances surrounding the child or children.  This material change can be related to either parent, a third party involved in the child's life, or something that has happened with the child or children. It has to be a "material" change.  This means it has to be significant or important and should not be minor or petty. The change must have happened after the date of the previous judgment and must be a material change.   

Whether there has been a material change in circumstances is decided by the judge on a case-by-case basis. For more detail about the standard, see this article on Material Change in Circumstances. Only after the Court decides that a material change in circumstances has occurred will the Court consider the proposed change in custody and whether it is in the best interest of the children.

Proposed Modification is in the Best Interest of the Child or Children

The Court will consider all relevant evidence in determining what custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child or children. When a modification of custody is at issue, the person seeking to change custody has to show how the new arrangement is better than the current arrangement, based on the best interest of the child. The Court will review this on a case-by-case basis, so it is important to be familiar with all the facts surrounding the custody agreement and current living situation of the children. For more details, see this article on Understanding the Best Interest of the Child.

Changing Considered Judgments

Changing a Considered Judgment of Custody

A judgment entered by the Court after a trial in which the judge hears and accepts evidence and the terms of the order are decided by the judge based on the evidence presented at trial is a considered judgment, also called a considered decree. If there was a trial and the judge made a decision about custody, the resulting order is a considered judgment.

Standard for Modifying Considered Decree

To modify a considered decree, two things must be proven:

  • (1) there has been a material change in circumstances since the date of the most recent custody order; and 

  • (2) the continuation of the existing custody is detrimental to the children or the benefit to the children of a change in custody outweighs the harm. 

Both of the "elements" must be proven for the Court to make a custody change. 

Material Change in Circumstances

First, the person asking the Court to change the custody arrangement must show that after the custody judgment was entered, something happened that changes the circumstances surrounding the child or children.  This material change can be related to either parent, a third party involved in the child's life, or something that has happened with the child or children. It has to be a "material" change.  This means it has to be significant or important and should not be minor or petty.  The change must have happened after the date of the previous judgment and must be a material change.   

Whether there has been a material change in circumstances is decided by the judge on a case-by-case basis. For more detail about the standard, see this article on Material Change in Circumstances. Only after the Court decides that a material change in circumstances has occurred will the Court consider whether the current custody arrangement harms the children or if the benefit of a change in custody outweighs the harm.

Continuation of the Existing Custody Arrangement is Detrimental to the Children

This phrase means that the person asking the Court to change the custody arrangement must prove that the children will suffer if the existing custody arrangement remains in place.  Ordinarily, this will be a difficult strategy for a self-represented litigant because the Court decided that the existing custody arrangement, at the time it was made a judgment of the Court, was in the best interest of the child or children.  

However, when the material change in circumstances makes the existing custody arrangement harmful to the child or children, this strategy may apply.  For example, if a parent previously awarded domiciliary custody has shown extreme changes in their abilities to parent, judgment, or behavior since the previous custody judgment and those behaviors have harmed the children. 

On other occasions, like when one parent's custody was severely limited by the existing custody judgment, but that parent has shown improvement in their parenting abilities, personal judgment, or behavior, this strategy may apply.  In these situations, the continuation of the existing custody arrangement could be detrimental to the children because it is in the best interest of children to have significant visitation with their parents. 

The Benefit to the Children of a Change in Custody Outweighs the Harm

This phrase means that the proposed change benefits the children more than the impact of the change would harm them.  Because Louisiana law presumes that stability and continuation of a custody arrangement is good for children, the Courts also consider any change to the custody schedule as potentially harmful. Obviously, the less disruptive the proposed change is, the less harmful the change will be, like when a parent asks the Court to make a change to the custody schedule only, and not a major change like which parent is the domiciliary parent.  

Last Review and Update: Oct 29, 2021
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