Changes to Family Law in Louisiana

With the new beginning of 2009, family law in Louisiana is changing in two respects. First, a new addition to the Louisiana Civil Code protects the right of children in divorced families to see both parents, helping to fill a gap which did not require parents granted a schedule of visitation or custody to see their children. To illustrate this point, a fictional scenario follows. Mr. and Mrs. Smith are divorced with a child, Amanda. Mrs. Smith has custody, but Mr. Smith has been granted a schedule of visitation.

As the law stood before, if Mrs. Smith withheld Amanda from Mr. Smith, the Court could step in and hold Mrs. Smith in contempt for not obeying the schedule of visitation. However, if Mr. Smith did not take advantage of the schedule of visitation to see Amanda, Mrs. Smith would be at a loss to ensure that Mr. Smith followed through on his legal obligation to see his child.

The new law, Article 136.1 of the Louisiana Civil Code, requires parents granted by court order a schedule of visitation, custody, or time to be spent with a child to actually see the child during this time, which offers legal protection to the other parent if the second parent does not obey. In the above scenario, Mrs. Smith could petition the Court to hold Mr. Smith in contempt for not seeing Amanda during the agreed upon time.

The exception to the rule is if the parent facing the contempt order can demonstrate good cause. This would stop the Court from holding Mr. Smith in contempt if he is able to demonstrate a good reason as to why he did not follow the schedule. This statute also allows Mrs. Smith to interfere with the schedule if she can also demonstrate good cause. Good cause is a fairly new concept in Louisiana family law, and will be reviewed on a case to case basis at the Court’s discretion.

The second change regards divorce procedure. When spouses decide to seek divorce, one spouse, known as the petitioner, will file for divorce. The other spouse, the defendant, can answer the petition for divorce by filing an answer within the requisite time period. If the defendant chooses not to answer, referred to as default, the petitioner can move for final judgment. The new change only effects instances where the defendant defaults. Previously, if the defendant did not answer, the petitioner only needed to submit an affidavit testifying to the truth of the allegations found in the petition and the original plus one copy of the proposed final judgment. In addition to submitting the previously required documents, the petitioner will now also need to enter a certification stating the type of service made on the defendant, the date of service, the date of preliminary default was entered, and a certification by the clerk that the record was examined by the clerk, including the date of the examination, and a statement that no answer or other opposition has been filed.

Thornhill Law Firm understands that matters regarding divorce and child custody are sensitive, and strives to best meet the needs of our clients. The experienced attorneys at Thornhill Law Firm have successfully helped many clients through divorce and negotiate and enforce child custody agreements, and will work with the same dedication to serve you when seeking divorce or an arrangement in the best interest of your child(ren). To learn more about representation by Thornhill Law Firm in child custody matters please visit or call us, toll-free, at 1-800-989-2707.