Lake Charles Domestic Law

COMPASSIONATE, SKILLED, KNOWLEDGEABLE REPRESENTATION

When family members are at odds in the legal system, particularly in a divorce or child custody setting, the results can be catastrophic. At Sudduth & Associates, we handle family and divorce related matters with understanding and support, both legal and emotional. We routinely handle all aspects of divorce, including disputes over custody of minor children, spousal support, and complex property divisions. Our client reviews speak for themselves as far as quality of work and the relationships we maintain with our clients both old and new. Our attorneys are highly trained with a focus on in-court litigation, but we always explore alternate options and methods to resolve family issues as efficiently and effectively as possible.

As experienced family law lawyers, we understand the unique difficulties that may arise in the context of domestic disputes, both legally and emotionally. We support our clients by effectively communicating to assure we are always malleable in representing their interests, and by making sure they know we are always there for them.

Of all the long-term relationships we experience throughout our lives, family ties are often the most private, enduring, and emotional. As most can attest, however, these relationships are rarely free from conflict. When domestic issues cannot be solved within the home, the universe of family law revolves around restoring order and providing a fair resolution for everyone involved.

It is a common misconception that family law is synonymous with divorce. In reality, divorce is just a small part of family law. In addition to divorce, our firm routinely handles adoption, premarital agreements or “prenups”, paternity issues, custody and child support matters, alimony and spousal support, protective orders, restraining orders, and community property partitions.

If you find yourself in need of a family law attorney, we believe it is essential that you find someone both compassionate and knowledgeable. Legal experience can go a long way, but it only reaches as far as the attorney is willing to go for their client.

Sudduth and Associates is experienced with the mediation process in family courts and are capable of assisting with all aspects of your case. We represent clients in a full range of divorce and family law-related legal matters:

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We are prepared to provide you with quality legal representation in a compassionate and caring environment, where privacy and confidentiality are paramount.

Contact Sudduth and Associates today at 337-480-0101 for an initial consultation.

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Alimony / Spousal Maintenance

LOUISIANA ALIMONY OR SPOUSAL SUPPORT

Spousal support laws in Louisiana provide financial assistance to a spouse in order to preserve his or her accustomed standard of living as it existed during the marriage. Alimony payments are determined based on the lower income spouse’s need and balanced by the other spouse’s ability to pay.

The terms “alimony” and “spousal support” are interchangeable. They refer to the money the court orders one spouse to pay the other during and after a divorce proceeding. Spousal support will not apply to every divorce. The court will determine whether alimony is required on a case-by-case basis.

Spousal support is not intended as a punishment, rather, it must be viewed it as a remedy to support the lower-income spouse after the end of a marriage. Appropriate spousal support brings a balance between the economic statuses of both spouses, and eases the transition to living as a single person. Either party may be ordered to pay spousal support, it is completely gender-neutral and may be granted or denied based on a host of economic factors.

HOW ALIMONY IS DETERMINED?

The first questions our clients ask when we discuss spousal support pertain to 1. how much they will likely pay or receive; 2. how support is calculated; and 3. how long it will last. The answers are important, and we often take time in our first consult to answer each question individually. Our job as family law attorneys is to help clients understand these answers from a planning perspective as well as from the court’s point of view.
Spousal Support laws in Louisiana, and court decisions that interpret them, set the criteria for determining whether alimony is applicable to your case. The following factors are considered, and the judge will weigh some factors more than others in each specific case:

  1. The income and means of the parties, including the liquidity of such means.
  2. The financial obligations of the parties, including any interim allowance or final child support obligation.
  3. The earning capacity of the parties.
  4. The effect of custody of children upon a party’s earning capacity.
  5. The time necessary for the claimant to acquire appropriate education, training, or employment.
  6. The health and age of the parties.
  7. The duration of the marriage.
  8. The tax consequences to either or both parties.
  9. The existence, effect, and duration of any act of domestic abuse committed by the other spouse upon the claimant, regardless of whether the other spouse was prosecuted for the act of domestic violence.

SPOUSAL SUPPORT LAWS IN LOUISIANA; DISCRETION OF THE COURT

Other factors may influence the amount and duration of spousal support. A judge’s trends and tendencies in past decisions will provide a roadmap for likely outcomes, but each case is unique and even judges outgrow certain ideals.

It is important that you have an attorney who not only understands the complexities of Louisiana spousal support laws, but who can provide insight to the inclinations of the local hearing officers and trial judges. At our initial consult we will highlight these topics and apply them to your circumstances to help prepare your case and decide what makes sense for you.

LOUISIANA ALIMONY & SPOUSAL SUPPORT; THE BASICS

All else aside, if both spouses are gainfully employed and self-sufficient, spousal support will generally not be awarded unless there is a considerable disparity in their incomes. Unless the parties voluntarily agrees on spousal support, a judge, or initially a hearing officer, will decide if spousal support is necessary according the Louisiana spousal support laws. Spousal support is always based on the lower-income spouses need and the other spouses ability to pay.

In Louisiana, there are two types of spousal support: Interim and Permanent.

Interim spousal support is awarded at a fixed amount for the duration of the proceedings, and often up to six months after the final divorce is granted. The intent of interim support is to balance the status quo of the parties during the transition phase, and assure that the lower income spouse is able to keep some semblance of the lifestyle that existed during the marriage.

Permanent spousal support is spousal support that continues for the lifetime of the receiving spouse, or for a fixed period of time after interim support.

Permanent lifetime support is rarely awarded in Louisiana, but is awarded in deserving situations. It should only be awarded when one spouse is completely financially dependent on the other, and is unable to procure employment that would allow them to survive without assistance.
Louisiana alimony or spousal support is always rooted in equity and feasibility. It is meant to protect the lower income spouse from poverty, but it should not cause undue financial hardship to the paying spouse either.

Always remember that spousal support is separate from the division of community property and child support.

LOUISIANA SPOUSAL SUPPORT MODIFICATION

Spousal support in Louisiana is modifiable.

If you are paying or receiving spousal support per a Louisiana judgment and you have experienced a significant change in your circumstances, you can ask the court for a review and modification of the order. There are several changes in circumstances that a court may consider.

First, an economic change may result in a need to modify or extinguish your spousal support payments. An attorney should evaluate your situation and provide guidance about whether you qualify for a modification, and what you can expect the modified payments to be according to Louisiana spousal support guidelines.

Most divorce cases are resolved without trial, which means the parties eventually agree on an amount and term for spousal support. Spousal support payments by agreement may also by modifiable depending on the situation and language in your judgment.
If your spousal support is modifiable and you wish to change the payments, you must be able to prove there has been a material change in circumstances since the issuance of the judgment ordering support. Monthly spousal support payments can be increased or decreased accordingly.

Spousal support payments may also be totally extinguished by:

  • Remarriage of the recipient
  • Death of either party; or
  • A judicial determination that the receiving party has cohabitated with another person of either sex in the manner of married persons.

SPOUSAL SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT

If you need legal advice concerning spousal support enforcement, call and schedule a consultation. Refusal to comply with or honor a judgment granting Louisiana spousal support is one of many problems that only the court can truly remedy.

If you believe the support you are paying or receiving should be modified, you should schedule a consult as soon as possible. Remember that the court can only make modifications retroactively to the date you file to seek one, so if a modification is appropriate, delaying will only cost you money.

In order to modify the amount of spousal support you are paying or receiving, you will need a family law attorney to obtain a modification to the support order. Give our law offices a call, Contact us today! 337-480-0101.

Family and Divorce Issues

Divorce will never be easy. Your divorce will probably involve a wide range of issues that must be resolved. No “fault” is required as grounds for divorce in Louisiana, so a divorce may be granted simply because one or both of the parties want one, so long as the parties live separate and apart for the requisite period of time either before or after filing.
In some divorce cases, the parties share a desire to settle matters with as little conflict as possible. Uncontested divorces are always the most cost effective option, and our goal at Sudduth & Associates is to explore simple, cost effective solutions when possible.
Often, however, the parties cannot or will not agree on simple resolutions to their issues. Hotly contested issues usually include child custody and child support, property division, and spousal support, which is commonly referred to as alimony. Contested divorce and child custody disputes can inflict irreparable damage on a family, including the children. No one wants to see a divorce tear, or inflict enormous costs of litigation.
Sudduth & Associates has established a reputation for excellence by helping couples resolve their conflicts amicably even in the most highly contested divorce cases.
When complex issues arise in divorce, there are many ways to deal with them. Some will battle it out through bitter and costly litigation, others set aside their personal feelings long enough to work out the details.
Alternative dispute resolution can be a very effective means of settling the issues that accompany a divorce. In fact, mediation over custody is highly encouraged by our legal system.
We are Louisiana divorce attorneys who encourage to the mediation process whenever possible. Louisiana courts tend to be very flexible if the parties are able to “get along” in order to move on with their lives, and we can help you through this process as simply as possible, if that’s what you want.

LOUISIANA DIVORCE ATTORNEYS FOCUSED ON A FAIR RESOLUTION – BUT PREPARED TO LITIGATE

Unfortunately, mediation does not work for everyone. Many divorce proceedings will remain contested. If the time comes when it is not in you or your child’s best interest to continue negotiations, you need attorneys thoroughly prepared for aggressive litigation.

Every situation is unique and requires specific attention, because we believe there is a unique solution to fit to every situation. Whether your divorce is an agreeable transition or a battle, we will handle your legal proceedings with care, attention and compassion. If you reside in Calcasieu Parish, your court is our second home. We have spent years getting to know the judges and hearing officers, and will always use our experiences and the court’s tendencies to guide you towards the solution that is best for you.

For our family and divorce issues give our law offices a call, Contact us today! 337-480-0101.

Child Custody and Child Support

The dissolution of any marriage or partnership brings about a host of issues. When children are involved, complex issues with child custody and child support come to the forefront.

To be frank, neither the judges of the court nor the hearing officers who make rulings on your case will have the slightest inclination to care about what you want as a parent. When you step into the universe of child custody, only one question exists – what is best for the children? The court’s only goal in a custody dispute is to protect the children and maintain a sense of normalcy in their lives. When that can be accomplished by fostering a healthy relationship with both parents, doing so is always preferable. Our goal as child custody attorneys and advocates is to paint the picture to the court that what you want is what’s best for the children, and that their best interest is precisely why you want what you want. If our clients have problems in their personal history that may jeopardize their image to the court, we always work to rehabilitate that image. In our initial consult, we will discuss big picture questions, including: what type of custody schedule you would want in a perfect world if you could choose every detail; what type of schedule is likely the most feasible; and what your biggest concerns are in regards to your children. The more we understand about your goals and circumstances, the better we can represent you. Our client reviews are evidence that we always do our best to stay hands on, communicate easily and effectively, and work with our clients as a team until their situation is resolved.

To ensure that a fair arrangement is reached, you should not sign off on any long-term agreements without at least consulting with a knowledgeable family law lawyer. Our family law attorneys routinely handle child custody cases and can help to determine what constitutes a fair custody arrangement for you and your children.

In our first consult, we will review your situation in detail, discuss options to get a feel for what your goals are, and explain how our specific hearing officers and judges have interpreted our state laws, and how their past rulings may impact your future. We often prioritize our goals and formulate long term plans in our first meeting with clients, which serve as the foundation for our negotiations and trial tactics down the line. Our consult is not just a meet and greet, it is the first day on the job.

CUSTODY; THE BASICS

Child custody encompasses both the physical and legal custody of the child. Physical custody is where the child resides while legal custody entails the decision making process for the parents including the “last word” on major education decisions, religious practices, medical treatments and activity involvement. Both of these aspects must be considered during child custody proceedings.
In Louisiana, the court must choose a “domiciliary” parent. Put simply, this is the parent who has the last word on major medical and educations decisions. The courts used to split the baby and award “co-domiciliary” status to both parents, but the Louisiana Supreme Court overruled that concept and the courts are now forced to choose. However, while Domiciliary status gets a lot of spotlight and clients are often very concerned about which parent will be chosen, in practicality the designation is not always one that will effect anyone’s day to day lives. We encourage the parties to discuss and agree on things like schools and doctors in advance, and this take much of the tension off of the situation. Of course the circumstances don’t always foster the right attitude for a meeting of the minds on these issues, but when possible it is always most cost effective to explore this option. If that’s not an option for you, we are always willing and prepared to resolve our problems in court.

Our child custody attorneys and staff will work with you to achieve the best possible outcome while preserving your parental rights and protecting your children’s best interests.

How does the court decide what is in my children’s best interest?

In Louisiana, our Civil Code is our legal guide and it provides the roadmap in terms of focal points and important topics to highlight to the court. Civil Code article 134 provides a host of factors that the court will consider when making a conclusion on child custody, including:

(1) The love, affection, and other emotional ties between each party and the child.
(2) The capacity and disposition of each party to give the child love, affection, and spiritual guidance and to continue the education and rearing of the child.
(3) The capacity and disposition of each party to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, and other material needs.
(4) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, adequate environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity of that environment.
(5) The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes.
(6) The moral fitness of each party, insofar as it affects the welfare of the child.
(7) The mental and physical health of each party.
(8) The home, school, and community history of the child.
(9) The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express a preference.
(10) The willingness and ability of each party to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other party.
(11) The distance between the respective residences of the parties.
(12) The responsibility for the care and rearing of the child previously exercised by each party.

Courts will emphasize some factors more than others, and no single factor alone should control the outcome. In our first meeting, we will take time to discuss relevant circumstances and how they relate to these factors, and to review how our court tends to rule in situations like yours. That said, each case is unique, and it is never possible to guarantee a particular outcome.

CUSTODY MODIFICATION

In Louisiana, a custody order can be modified if the court determines that material circumstances have changed such that a new custody schedule is best for the child.

If your prior order was by consent, or agreement, the process of getting back into court can be relatively simple, as the standard for changing custody is low. On the other hand, if your custody order was issued after a judge considered evidence, or after a trial occurred, it will be much more difficult to modify the custody schedule, but it can still be done under the right circumstances. This fact is often the reason parties decide to put their issues aside and agree on an initial custody schedule. As family law lawyers, it is our job to make sure you understand all of the long-term implications of these decisions before you sign off.

CHILD SUPPORT

Courts generally adhere to an objective process when determining the proper child support amount. This means that, for the most part, the amount of child support owed is pre-determined based on statutory guidelines. Whether you are a single parent seeking child support or a non-custodial parent with questions about your current support order, our family law attorneys can help to ensure that your children receive the necessary financial support based on the appropriate factors.

Child support calculation is generally based upon a number of financial factors pertaining to both parties. Our knowledgeable legal team will help you compile your financial information and ascertain the other parent’s current situation in order to make certain your support obligation is fair in light of both party’s monthly income and circumstances. Factors considered in the formulation of child support include:
Number of children and their custody schedule
monthly gross income of the parties
Pre-existing child support obligations
Out of pocket medical and/or daycare expenses by either parent

MODIFYING CHILD SUPPORT

If you already have a child support order in place, you may be in need of a modification of the monthly obligation or amount. In general, a court may modify a child support order if it finds the financial status of either party has materially changed and the current support obligation is no longer fair. In Louisiana, a change in income that would result in a change in support of equal to or more than 25% is considered material. For instance, if the parent paying support suddenly becomes disabled and is no longer able to work, the court will likely consider reducing his support obligation to meet his current income level. Conversely, if either parent experiences a sudden increase in monthly income, the court may decide to adjust the monthly support amount accordingly. If you require a modification to your child support order, our team will help your compile the requisite financial documentation and file to request a modification.

Always remember that voluntarily lowering your income in any way will not affect support. This is known as “voluntary underemployment.”

Whether you are the obligor or obligee, our family law firm will work with you to obtain a child support amount that reflects the Louisiana guidelines and best interests of your children. If you are having difficulty meeting your monthly support obligation or believe your child’s parent is able to pay more than the amount in the current order, our attorneys will work diligently to achieve a modification of support on your behalf. To speak with one of family law lawyers about your child support matter, Contact us today! 337-480-0101.

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