Child Custody in a Hurricane

Meagan Lynn Miller

DISCLAIMER: The information presented here is not legal advice. Legal information does not create an attorney-client relationship and is intended only to inform.

What to do if you have to evacuate for a natural disaster

In Louisiana, and the entire Gulf Coast, families and parents must be prepared for hurricanes. While your local news station, the governor, and local officials offer helpful advice for how to prepare your home and stay safe during a storm, what are parents supposed to do about court-ordered child custody schedules? While it may seem overwhelming for parents to manage, for children, stability and normalcy are comforting — even in a natural disaster.

Louisiana Revised Statute 9:335 gives parents specific guidance for how to handle court-ordered custody during a natural disaster:

“…when either party is required to evacuate this state with a minor child because of an emergency or disaster declared under the provisions of R.S. 29:721 et seq., or declared by federal authority and it becomes impossible for the parties to exercise custody as provided in the judgment, the parties shall engage in continuous communication regarding the safe evacuation of the child, the location of the child during and after the emergency or disaster, and an interim custody plan for the child until the custody provisions of the judgment can be resumed.”

Louisiana Revised Statute 9:335 A. (2) (c)
Emergency or Disaster Declaration

It’s important to note that the law covers situations when an emergency or disaster has been declared by a local, state, or federal authority. If no emergency or disaster has been declared by a government authority, parents are expected to stick to the custody judgment, unless both parents agree otherwise. Parents can always agree to temporarily modify court-ordered custody schedules.

Impossibility

The law covers situations where it “becomes impossible for the parties to exercise custody as provided in the judgment“. Obviously, impossible is a strong word. This means that, if it’s at all possible, parents should do their best to continue the normal custody schedule.

Continuous Communication

When experiencing a natural disaster, any communication can be challenging, and continuous communication might seem impossible. But it is not. If you have physical custody of a child at the time of a natural disaster, use every method of communication available to you to let the other parent know:

  • whether you intend to evacuate or take shelter away from your home;
  • where you intend to evacuate or take shelter;
  • where you and the child are located, if different from where you intended;
  • when and where they can exercise custody, until things get back to normal.

Put simply, parents have to make their best effort to make sure their child is allowed custody or visitation time with the other parent, even in the event of a natural disaster and evacuation.

Does your custody judgment include emergency provisions?

Under Louisiana law, all joint custody agreements should include the above-described emergency provisions. If your current custody judgment does not include these provisions, you might want to contact Westbank Family Law for more information and to discuss whether you could benefit from changing your custody judgment.

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