The concept of substantial harm under La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 133 includes parental unfitness, neglect, abuse, abandonment of rights, and is broad enough to include any other circumstances, such as prolonged separation of the child from its natural parents, that would cause the child to suffer substantial harm. After the non-parent meets his or her burden of proving substantial harm, the court must consider the best interest of the child.
A trial court is not bound to make a mechanical evaluation of all of the statutory factors listed in La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 134; rather, the court should decide each case on its own facts in light of those factors. The factors listed in Article 134 are not exclusive, but are provided as a guide to the court, and the relative weight given to each factor is left to the discretion of the trial court. Every child custody case must be decided in view of its own particular set of facts and circumstances with the paramount goal of reaching a decision that is in the best interest of the child. On appellate review, the determination of the trial court in establishing custody is entitled to great weight and will not be disturbed on appeal absent a clear showing of an abuse of discretion.
Appellant appeals the trial court's November 26, 2012 judgment granting appellee sole custody, care, and control of her minor child. Appellant argues the trial court erred in this judgment because: it did not consider whether the custody award to appellee would result in substantial harm to the minor child; it did not evaluate all of La. C.C. art. 134's factors to determine the best interest of the child; and it did not determine whether appellee would provide the minor child a wholesome and stable environment.
Was the court's custody arrangement in the best interest of the child?
The mother's possible deportation, combined with the uncertainty created by the mother's history of delegating the responsibility for raising her other children to others, as well as her failure to support and keep in contact with the child, were sufficient for the trial court to have reasonably found that the child would have faced substantial harm if the mother was granted custody. The trial court correctly considered the child's best interest to be paramount.