When you first looked upon your firstborn child in a Louisiana hospital delivery room, you likely had similar mixed emotions as many other fathers who have been where you were in that moment. You may have experienced everything from wonder, joy, excitement and amazement to utter fear, stress and worry before your son or daughter completed his or her first breaths. As time went on and another child or two joined your family, you finally began to feel comfortable wearing the shoes of fatherhood, that is, until you divorced.
Since then, you’ve been worried that you might not succeed in getting full custody of your kids. Although the fact that you are a father cannot prevent you from seeking custody, there are a few things to keep in mind to help avoid complications in the process.
First things first: Establish paternity
In Louisiana, the court presumes you are the biological parent of your children if you said, shortly after the dissolution of your marriage, that children were born to you and your spouse during marriage. However, certain obstacles may arise, in which case, the following information may be helpful to you:
- To obtain full custody, you must have acknowledged paternity at some point, such as by signing a birth certificate or acknowledging your biological parenthood in court.
- If you sue for full custody of your children, consider your relationship with them an open book. The court will want to know many things, and you need to be prepared to answer very personal questions, such as how much time you spend with your children, what you do with them, how you provide for their needs, etc.
- The court typically operates on the assumption that mothers and fathers are equal (meaning no preference is shown toward one or the other for the purpose of awarding custody); however, if you seek full custody, you will need to explain to the court why you believe your children’s other parent should not have a shared custody arrangement.
While the court generally believes that children fare best when they have ample time with both parents after divorce, there are various situations that would prompt the court to rule otherwise. For instance, if your former spouse has a substance abuse problem or there is a suspicion of child abuse or neglect, the court will want to investigate such matters before handing down a decision.
If you know your rights and seek clarification of child custody laws ahead of time, you may be able to convince the court that your children’s best interests are best served if you obtain full physical custody of them. Many fathers in your situation rely on experienced family law attorneys to present their cases in court.