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How the ‘Bergeron standard’ affects child custody modification in Louisiana

As a parent negotiating a child custody arrangement, you hope you and your co-parent get it right the first time. But this is not always the case, even when the parents cannot work out a settlement and a family court judge must decide how custody will be divided up.

That said, no child custody order in Louisiana is set in stone. Each parent has the right to seek modifications. For example, a father who was only given visitation time can ask the court to change the order so that he shares custody with his children’s mother. Doing so can be challenging, though — especially if the order came from a judge, not an agreement between you and your ex.

There are two types of child custody orders in Louisiana: consent decrees and considered decrees. A consent decree is the result of the parents negotiating a custody arrangement without a trial. A considered decree is one that the judge issues after holding a trial, during which each parent has the chance to present evidence that the custody plan they prefer is in their child’s best interests.

The challenge with considered child custody decrees

When a Louisiana parent wants to change a considered decree, it can be much more difficult, thanks to a 1986 ruling by the state Supreme Court. In Bergeron v. Bergeron, the court ruled that parents in this situation must prove one of two things:

  1. That the current custody situation is so deleterious to the child as to warrant its modification; or
  2. That the benefits of the new arrangement would outweigh the harm to the child

The court required that the second method of proof be done by “clear and convincing evidence,” the highest possible burden of proof in civil law. In other words, it can be very challenging to prove that the judge in your child custody dispute made a mistake.

Your family deserves top-notch legal help

Among other things, this is one reason why you want to hire an experienced family law attorney to represent you in your child custody matter. As a father, you owe it to your kids to avoid serious problems in the custody plan that would require going back to court to fix later.

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