In Louisiana, joint custody is presumed to be in the best interests of the children and is regularly awarded. Sole custody, on the other hand, is still awarded but is far less common. In this blog, we’ll define the role of a domiciliary parent as it relates to joint custody in Louisiana family law cases.
Joint custody envisions that the parents will both continue to be involved in the raising of the children. When joint custody is awarded, it is routine that a “Joint Custody Implementation Plan,” or simply a “Joint Custody Plan,” is prepared and executed, either signed by both parties or issued by the Court.
The Joint Custody Plan sets forth the custodial schedule — the periods of time during which the children will be with each party — and addresses various issues that commonly arise in custody matters, such as medical care, education, extracurricular activities and communication. Although it is common that a domiciliary parent be named, it is not required in Louisiana.
The Role of a Domiciliary Parent
The law sets forth two particular aspects of the domiciliary parent:
1.“The domiciliary parent is the parent with whom the child shall primarily reside, but the other parent shall have physical custody during the time periods that assure frequent and continuing contact with both parents”
2.“The domiciliary parent shall have authority to make all decisions affecting the children unless the plans provides otherwise”
Defining Custody with a Domiciliary Parent
The first provision simply relates to the custody schedule. While shared custody (i.e., 50/50 year-round) does occur, it is far more common for the parties to have a school schedule, a holiday schedule and a summer schedule. Splitting time during the holiday and summer is very common though schedules often vary depending on circumstances, particularly the ages of the children. During the school schedule, it is common for the children to reside more with one parent than the other.
Of course, every custody case is unique — what happens in one case, does not automatically dictate what will happen in another.
Making Decisions with a Domiciliary Parent
The second aspect of domiciliary custody is typically the one that gets the most time with the child.
The domiciliary parent does have the right to make decisions; however, the non-domiciliary parent can challenge those decisions in court with an important catch. The decisions of the domiciliary parent are presumed to be in the best interests of the child which means the burden is on the non domiciliary parent to prove otherwise.
It’s important to note that the domiciliary parent gets to make those decisions “unless the plan provides otherwise.” What this means is that it is possible to build into the plan requirements for mutual agreement. It is not uncommon to see such provisions regarding medical care, educational decisions, extracurricular activities and many others in a custody plan. One of the advantages of reaching an agreement on custody is the ability to address these issues.
It is also true that a domiciliary parent isn’t required. The parties can agree that neither will be named the domiciliary parent, or the court can, for good cause, determine that one should not be named.
Whether or not to name a domiciliary parent, and whether or not to limit or expand their authority, is usually a factor of the ability of the parties to communicate and work together for the best interests of their children.
As with all other aspects of custody, whether a domiciliary parent is appropriate in a given case and what authority such parent should or should not have, depends entirely on the facts.
If you are going through a custody case, or wish to understand these issues in greater detail, our professional team of experts can help walk you through the process. Our offices are located in Lafayette, Louisiana.