Getting divorced in Louisiana is similar to getting divorced in most other states, although the law is always at least a little different in the Bayou State (as it is has its roots in French Napoleonic law, rather than in British law as in the other states). A divorce for any married couple will accomplish two things: (1) severing the marital relationship, and (2) dividing assets and debts. If they have been married for a significant length of time and one of them will be unable to be self-supporting after the divorce, the issue of alimony may also arise. If there are minor children, they will also need to resolve issues of child custody, visitation, and support.
Residency and Where to File
In order to file for divorce in Louisiana, either you or your spouse must be domiciled in Louisiana, which means that Louisiana is your primary state of residence. While you may be a part-time resident of more than one state, you may only have one domicile state. Typically, your domicile is the state where you have your driver’s license, where your car is registered, where you are registered to vote, and from where you file your tax return. You will file in the Judicial District Court in the parish where either you or your spouse are domiciled, or where you were last domiciled while together.
The most simple procedure is for an uncontested divorce, where you and your spouse reach an agreement about the division of your property, and, if you have any children, what arrangements will be made for them. You begin the divorce procedure by preparing a document called a Petition for Divorce, along with various other supporting documents. For an uncontested divorce, one of these documents will be a marital settlement agreement outlining the division of assets (and your agreement regarding any children). These documents are filed with the court, and copies of them are provided to your spouse. You will attend a court hearing, at which time the judge will make sure that all of your paperwork is in order, perhaps ask you a few questions, and enter your Judgment of Divorce.
Grounds for Divorce
Grounds for divorce are legally recognized reasons to get a divorce. This is the justification for severing the marital relationship. Louisiana, like most states, has what are commonly called no-fault grounds for divorce, and two traditional fault-based grounds. There are two no-fault grounds for divorce, which will be explained separately
To use the first no-fault ground, you (the Plaintiff) need to state in the Petition for Divorce that “the Plaintiff desires to be divorced from the Defendant.” To use this ground, you and your spouse must live “separate and apart” continuously from the date the Petition is filed until 180 days after your spouse (the Defendant) is served with the Petition or signs a waiver of service. This means that you must actually live apart. You may not live in the same household.
To use the second no-fault ground, you need to state in the Petition that “the parties have been living separate and apart continuously for a period of 6 months or more.” This ground may be used if you and your spouse have been separated for at least 6 months, and does not require any waiting period before a judgment can be entered.
The two traditional fault-based grounds are adultery, and conviction of a felony and a sentence to hard labor or death. However, in most cases, there is no reason to use any of these, since they add complexity to the process by requiring proof.
Covenant Marriage. Louisiana is one of a few states that have created a covenant marriage. You will know if you have a covenant marriage. To dissolve a covenant marriage you need to prove one of several designated fault-based grounds.
A divorce involves dividing property and debts between you and your spouse. This is largely left up to the discretion of the judge, as there are no guidelines in the Louisiana divorce laws. Louisiana follows a legal concept known as community property, which basically means that all property acquired by either party, or both, during the marriage is marital property. Generally, each party may keep separate property, which is property they owned before marriage, or acquired by gift or inheritance.
Alimony in Louisiana
Alimony is only awarded if the party seeking it was not at fault regarding the breakup of the marriage (such as adultery), and is without sufficient means of support. The amount of alimony is limited to one-third of the income of the party paying alimony. Subject to that limit, the amount is determined by the judge after considering the following factors:
- each party’s income and means of support, including the liquidity,
- each party’s financial obligations,
- each party’s earning capacity,
- the effect of child custody upon a party’s earning capacity,
- the time required for the party seeking alimony to acquire appropriate education, training, or employment,
- each party’s health and age,
- the duration of the marriage,
- the tax consequences,
- any act of domestic abuse committed by the other spouse upon the party seeking alimony, regardless of whether the other spouse was prosecuted, and
- any other relevant factor.
Child Custody in Louisiana
If you and your spouse have any minor children, there will have to be a custody determination. Under Louisiana child custody law, it is presumed that joint custody is in the best interest of the child. The parties must submit a joint custody plan. If either party requests sole custody, that party must prove it is in the child’s best interest, considering the following factors:
- the child’s love, affection, and emotional ties with each party,
- each party’s capacity and disposition to give the child love, affection, and spiritual guidance; to continue the child’s education and rearing; and to provide food, clothing, medical care, and other material needs.
- the length of time the child has lived in a stable, adequate environment, and the desirability for continuity,
- the permanence of the existing or proposed home as a family unit,
- each party’s moral fitness,
- each party’s mental and physical health,
- the home, school, and community history of the child,
- the reasonable preference of the child, if the child is of sufficient age,
- each party’s willingness of to facilitate a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other party,
- the distance between the parties’ residences,
- each party’s previous responsibility for the care and rearing of the child, and
- any other relevant factor.
Child Support in Louisiana
A decision must also be made about how the children will be financially supported. Child support is determined by reference to the Louisiana Child Support Guidelines.
There is no provision in the Louisiana law for restoring a maiden or previous name, however, there are court decisions that allow the wife to resume her maiden name.
If you and your spouse agree on the major issues, an uncontested online divorce may be right for you. Otherwise, you can talk to an attorney to get advice or help filing for divorce with the LegalZoom personal legal plan.