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Louisiana Divorce Laws

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As of its latest available data, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there were 2.2 divorces per 1,000 population in the state of Louisiana in 2021. It was tied with four other states for having the seventh lowest divorce rate in the United States. The figure was up from 1.4 in 2020, though lower than the 2019 rate of 2.4. 

The low rate may be because of financial or social factors. Or it may be an indication of how Louisianians generally recognize and value the sanctity of marriage, but it should not discourage those mired in unhappy marriages to seek relief and release from their toxic relationships with their spouses. Ending a marriage remains a matter of right, and there ought to be no reason not to take the option if it is desirable.

Divorce vs. Annulment vs. Legal Separation in Louisiana

Divorce, annulment, and legal separation traditionally have very different meanings. A divorce in Louisiana is the legal termination of a subsisting marriage. It is enforced through a judicial order, and it cuts the marital ties created during a marriage. The legal responsibilities and benefits of a matrimonial union are dissolved once a couple splits up.

In an annulment, the marriage is not dissolved because it legally never existed. The law lists essential legal defects that prevent a marriage from going into effect, like the marriage being bigamous, incestuous, or non-consensual. 

Legal separation generally does not exist in the state. Louisiana has done away with the legal separation remedy except for those in a covenant marriage, a special matrimonial tie with a religious dimension. In states where it does exist, it allows spouses to live apart but does not dissolve the marriage.

Is Louisiana a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?

While there are moves by politicians to eliminate no-fault divorce in the state of Louisiana, the jurisdiction, as of the time of writing, remains a no-fault divorce state. There is no need for either spouse to be culpable for the failure of the marriage. Sticking to the no-fault route is time-consuming, however, compared to an at-fault divorce, and this point will be explored later.

People united through a covenant marriage may not use a no-fault divorce either. These couples have to show that at least one party is guilty of the following before being allowed to split up:

  • Abandonment

  • Physical or sexual abuse

  • Chemical dependency

  • Adultery

  • Criminal behavior

Those united through a non-covenant marriage may also resort to a fault-based divorce, which removes the mandatory waiting period. This point will be discussed later in the article.

How to File for Divorce in Louisiana

The divorce process in Louisiana depends on whether the spouses are already living apart or not. Article 102 of the civil code is for those still living together but plan to live separately and is associated with no-fault divorces. Article 103 is for parties already apart when the petition is filed and is usually associated with at-fault divorces. This period spent apart refers to the mandatory waiting period mentioned in Article 103.1.

Regardless of which civil code article one falls under, the general procedure after the waiting period is the same.

Step 1: Identify the Correct Court for Case Filing

There are a few things more embarrassing in law than for a petitioner to pray to the wrong altar or file a case in the wrong court. Thus, the plaintiff has to ensure that the formal complaint or petition is sent to the court in the correct judicial district where either or both spouses live. The Louisiana Supreme Court has a helpful page for identifying which court one must send the papers to.

Step 2: Submit the Necessary Forms and Fees

Going to court requires lots of paperwork, and this is a key reason why lawyers exist: to keep track of every shred of evidence and documentation needed to dissolve a marriage. The paperwork depends on various factors, like if there are minor children and if there is a need to accept or waive service. Regardless, an overview of the needed forms is available on the Louisiana State Bar Association website. Filing fees also need to be paid at this stage.

Step 3: Officially Notify the Other Spouse

As a matter of due process, the law requires plaintiffs to notify defendants that they have been sued in court. Divorces are no different. This is usually achieved by a sheriff or process server, but there may be delays in the process if the defendant's spouse is out of state, in which case the service is through registered mail. Further complications arise in the case of absentee partners, which will be tackled later on.

The defendant may choose to sign a waiver of service or acceptance of service, which removes the need to send notifications and papers to the court. This is useful if a divorce is not particularly contentious and the parties want to split up as quickly as possible.

Step 4: Wait for the Court’s Decision

At this point, the court takes over the process. If the divorce is contested, it will decide on contentious issues concerning child custody, support, alimony, and the division of assets and debts. The process involves multiple court hearings and appearances.

Uncontested divorces have no such contentious issues, especially if the couple has fully settled and compromised on every matter concerning the split. This leaves the court with little left to do other than approve the divorce papers submitted by the couple.

How Property Is Divided in a Louisiana Divorce

Louisiana is a community property state that assumes that every property and asset acquired during the marriage is shared by both spouses equally. Generally, this means that when a couple divorces, their holdings and assets are split evenly. 

The wrinkle is that there is such a thing as separate property. This generally refers to those assets acquired before the community property was established (e.g., things each spouse came to own before the marriage or those obtained through donation, inheritance, or specific kinds of court actions as enumerated in Article 2341 of the civil code). These assets and the attached liabilities are given to the spouse who has always had exclusive ownership; they are not divided in two or split evenly.

As for the process itself, the court will determine the current value and not the initial purchase value of the properties at a process called the partition trial. The parties may bring in experts like property appraisers and accountants to set the appropriate valuations, then the court will do its best to divide the properties evenly. If it is impossible to split everything evenly, the court may require equalizing payments to rectify the issue.

Louisiana Divorce FAQs

Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in Louisiana

Individuals in Louisiana may be reluctant to dissolve their marriages because of financial and social factors. Below are resources for those contemplating the dissolution of marriage.

Louisiana State Bar Association

The Louisiana State Bar Association is the professional society of lawyers to which all practicing attorneys in the state must be a member. Its website has facilities for lawyer referrals and links indigent defendants to pro-bono practitioners.

Acadiana Legal Service Corporation

The Acadiana Legal Service Corporation delivers free legal assistance to those who need advice regarding the termination of marriages. It also hosts educational materials like this brochure that educates readers on the basics of divorce and protection from abusive husbands.

The Pro Bono Project

This service tackles civil and family law issues, drawing information from volunteer lawyers, firms, and paralegals to resolve various issues, ranging from housing to adoption and child custody.

Southeast Louisiana Legal Services

This office is dedicated to protecting domestic violence victims, both adults and juveniles. It targets those who cannot afford competent and independent counsel due to poverty. It also covers civil law issues, like protecting elderly consumers and fighting homelessness.

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