TWO THINGS THAT EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT CHILD CUSTODY
This is a common situation in Louisiana; more common than you may think:
Dick and Jane live in Baton Rouge, LA are getting a divorce. They have 1 young child, Mary. Jane is concerned that once she separates from Dick, she may not have enough money to support Mary. Jane is also concerned that she will not be able to afford childcare for Mary, but she needs someone to watch Mary while she is at work. Dick suggests that they both go see lawyer Smith and that they try to work everything out.
Dick generously agrees to split custody 50/50 so that Jane will only have to pay for childcare for Mary during the weeks that Jane has physical custody of the child. Jane agrees. Lawyer Smith goes to court and works everything out. The court awards an amount of money to Jane based on the Louisiana child support guidelines.
A year later, Mary sees lawyer Jones. She wants a change in the custody arrangement. Dick is not taking care of Mary. Dick’s parents are. Dick never sees the child. Mary doesn’t like being taken care of by her grandparents. She has crying fits every time she has to leave her mother. Lawyer Jones tells Jane that it will be very difficult to change the custody arrangement that she agreed to. He also tells her that Dick is paying less child support to her than he would have had to pay if she had been appointed as the child’s domiciliary parent. Moreover, lawyer Jones tells Jane that it will cost her thousands of dollars to try to change custody, and that there is no guarantee that their efforts will be successful.
This situation could have been avoided if Mary had known two things:
- ONCE THE COURT APPROVES A CUSTODY ARRANGEMENT, IT IS VERY DIFFICULT — AND EXPENSIVE — TO CHANGE.Even when the parties are in agreement on a custody arrangement, once the court issues its order it cannot be changed unless the party wanting to change it can prove “a material change in circumstances.” Trial judges are human beings, and each human being has a different opinion on what is, and what is not, a “material change in circumstances.” One judge may feel that the fact that Mary’s grandparents are taking care of her, and that Dick is an absent parent, is a material change, another may feel that it is not. Proving that the change is “material” requires the gathering and presentation of evidence. The case will require more of your lawyer’s time and he or she will charge you more money than you would have spent if you had had a lawyer representing you in the first place.
- THE CUSTODY ARRANGEMENT THAT YOU AGREE TO MAY HAVE AN EFFECT ON THE AMOUNT OF CHILD SUPPORT THAT YOU RECEIVE.In a 50/50 child custody arrangement, each party gets a credit for the time that a child is in the custody of the other parent. Courts are permitted to award this credit even in cases where the physical custody arrangement is somewhat less than 50/50. In some cases, the party receiving child support may have been in a better situation, financially, if she or he had not agreed to a “shared” custody arrangement. If custody can’t be changed, and there is no change in the economic circumstances of the parents, the child support award won’t be changed either.
- NEVER agree to a custody arrangement unless you are confident that it will work over the long term.
- NEVER agree to a custody arrangement unless you have consulted with an attorney.
- NEVER, EVER, consult with the same attorney as your spouse, unless you ALSO consult with an attorney of your own. If your spouse has suggested that you see the same attorney, you should regard this as a “red flag.” If that attorney agrees to meet with the both of you, and you do not personally know the attorney, you should refuse to attend the meeting.
Louisiana does not discriminate against children who are born out of wedlock. Custody Law is the same whether parents are married or not.
At the Cosenza Law Firm we are concerned about the economic welfare of our clients and the best interests of their children. Know what your options are before you decide to take the next step. Call our law firm today at 225-647-6644 or send an email to arrange a consultation at our Baton Rouge or Gonzales offices.