It's All About the Children, Human or Furry
In some custody disputes, the judge will sometimes recommend that both parties to attend mediation. Usually, a judge will give parties the option to agree upon a mediator, but if they can’t, then it’ll be appointed by the court.
The first thing to consider is that, in Louisiana, kids in the middle of divorcing parents do not automatically get legal representation and consequently, they can be the most vulnerable to abuse. Not necessarily abuse by their parents, but victims to abuse created by the system. They can be subject to orders they dislike or orders that are impractical, they can be party to custody evaluations, they can be poked and prodded by mental health experts, and they can even made to testify.
There’s no universal definition of “best interests,” although all states, including the District of Columbia and some U.S. territories, have laws governing the bests interests of children, including Louisiana. Ultimately, what’s in the child’s best interest boils down to making timely decisions that are best for the child’s safety and well-being.
There are several things to consider, like family bonds or other legal protections for children. Sometimes, it may come down to the child’s wishes, although Louisiana doesn’t have any laws requiring this and a child’s testimony is given its due weight based on the age and maturity of the child.
According to the Children’s Code Art. 675(A), children shall be placed in “least restrictive, most family-like, and most appropriate setting available in close proximity to the parents’ homes.” Louisiana even recognized how much of a toll the court process takes on the kids. In Children’s Code Art. 601, courts are encouraged to have proceedings “conducted expeditiously” to avoid delays in “achieving permanency” since uprooting after a long delay can be traumatic to a child. “This title shall be administered and interpreted to avoid unnecessary interference with family privacy and trauma to the child,” according to the statute, while also making it “authorize the protective and prevention intervention needed for the health, safety, and well-being of children.”
These are some of things to consider regarding custody disputes involving kids. But does it necessarily involve children? Anyone with pets knows they are as much a part of the family as our children, which begs the question: What happens to the cat or the dog, or other pets, in custody disputes? This is where it gets a little murky since Louisiana doesn’t offer much guidance on this subject. Legally, according to Louisiana Civil Code Article 473, pets are considered “corporeal movables,” which is essentially a piece of property that encompasses possessions such as furniture or appliances.
However, there is good news. Courts have recognized the emotional bond between animals and people and the family status given to pets by their owners. This stems from the Barrios v. Safeway Insurance Company case, in which a Louisiana appellate court in 2012 upheld at $10,000 award for emotional damages to a pet owner. However, in resolving the ‘custody’ of a pet, they are treated like property. How much is the pet worth? Yes, you owe the other owner half the value.
Some things the court will consider in determining where the pet will live (or ‘use and possession’ as the courts say) is deciding when the pet was bought, is it a service pet, can the requesting party take care of the pet, etc.
At the Mediation Clinic of Louisiana, every mediator on our staff has been practicing family law over 15 years and have been involved in many custody battles. Most importantly, we have active families and are parents and pet owners ourselves. We understand the trauma of separation and the peace that mediation can bring. Mediation does not impose a settlement; the purpose is to help the parties develop a settlement that works well for them and their children…human or furry.