This article provides an overview of child custody procedures and explanations of the forms used in child custody suits in Louisiana.
Do-It-Yourself Child Custody: An Overview
Every state's pro se methods for obtaining child custody differ in detail, but have similar procedures overall. Pro se is the legal term for do-it-yourself. The 4th District Court of Baton Rouge in Louisiana offers helpful advice about the process in general, along with specific information and forms that apply to Louisiana's family law courts.
The 4th District guide notes that there are two different custody issues that could be in dispute:
- Physical custody: how much time the child spends with each parent, and
- Legal custody: who has the legal right to make decisions about the child. Often this is a shared responsibility; at other times, one parent has sole legal custody.
Often parents make these decisions without court intervention. When parents disagree, one parent can initiate a child custody proceeding to decide physical and legal custody issues.
In Louisiana, the parent who initiates the custody suit files a petition with the clerk's office in their parish court. Before filing the petition, check with your district court's clerk's office to see if it must be notarized. Some districts require it, while others do not. At the conclusion of the hearing on your petition, the judge will make a ruling, which may be to keep present custody orders in place, to modify them according to the requests in the petition or to keep some in place, while modifying others.
Custody Forms Petitions in Louisiana
Make your pro se custody claim by filling out and filing one of two petition forms with your parish court:
- Self-Represented Litigant Petition to Establish Custody, or
- Self-Represented Litigant Rule to Modify Custody
Both of these documents ask the court to rule on your custody issue. Use the first form if custody has not been previously ruled on by the court; use the second form to change the terms of an earlier custody order. Both include detailed instructions for filling them out.
That there are no statewide forms, so many of Louisiana's 64 parishes have their own. Be sure to get the form you need from the parish where your petition will eventually be heard. When you pick it up, find out if it needs to be notarized. Some forms, like the one used in Baton Rouge, include the notary affidavit as an integral part of the petition.
When One Parent Lives Out of State
If you're petitioning to establish or modify custody, and the other parent lives out of state, you also need to file an Affidavit of Long Arm Service. Once you've filed your pleading, tell the clerk you need a copy of your papers to be "served by long arm." The clerk will give you a certified copy of your pleading along with any related orders signed by the judge and a blue cover sheet called the citation.
Make sure to use the Long Arm Service Affidavit for your particular parish and carefully follow the detailed instructions for filling it out, filing it with the court and serving the other parent with a copy.
Another Necessary Form
Whenever your pleading asks for a hearing date, it must be accompanied by a Return Date/Hearing Cover Sheet. This serves several purposes, but primarily establishes dates when the parties are available for the court hearing. Note that in child custody cases, the petitioner must answer several questions at the end of the form, which ask for information about prior hearings in juvenile court involving the child or the parents.