Who Can File for Divorce in Louisiana?
Anyone who has been a resident of Louisiana for at least one year can file for divorce. Residents of Louisiana can file for divorce even if they are living outside the state, as long as they maintained their residency. The “Petition for Divorce” (legal paperwork requesting a divorce) must be filed in the parish where either spouse resides or where the couple last lived together.
Couples who entered into a “covenant marriage” are required to seek marital counseling before filing for divorce. A covenant marriage is based upon the belief that couples often end their marriage without attempting to resolve their conflicts. The pair agrees to attend premarital counseling before they get married and enter counseling when marital problems arise.
Is There a Separation Requirement?
The State of Louisiana requires divorcing spouses to live separately for 180 days if there are no children from the marriage. If the couple has children, they must live apart for at least one year before a divorce will be granted.
Do I Need Grounds for Divorce in Louisiana?
No. Louisiana allows couples to divorce based on the fact that they are living separate and apart. Although this is different from the classic no-fault ground of “irreconcilable differences,” it does allow spouses to end their marriage without being forced to make nasty allegations against the other in court.
A divorce based on a separation will be granted as long as the couple has been separated for at least six months, and there are no children from the marriage. Parents who have minor children must live apart for one year before they will be granted a divorce.
In a fault-based divorce, one spouse alleges that the other spouse’s misconduct, such as adultery, led to the break-down of the marriage.
If the pair entered into a covenant marriage, they must cite grounds for divorce (see below).
What are the Grounds for Divorce?
The grounds for divorce in Louisiana are as follows:
- the couple has lived separate and apart for 180 days and has no minor children, or
- the couple has lived separate and apart for 365 days if they have children from the marriage
Fault grounds for a regular (non-covenant) divorce
- adultery, and
- a felony conviction.
Grounds for divorce from a covenant marriage
A covenant marriage may be terminated by divorce only upon the following grounds:
- a felony convocation
- abandonment for a year or more
- physical or sexual abuse of the spouse or children
- the couple has lived separate and apart without reconciling for at least two years, or
- the couple has lived separate and apart for one year (one and a half years if there are minor children of the marriage) from the date a legal separation was signed, and they have no hope of reconciling.
Is It Better If I Have Grounds for Divorce?
Grounds for divorce may be important when judges are making custody decisions. Moral fitness as it relates to the welfare of the child will be taken into consideration. Any parent who has been found guilty of physically or sexually abusing the children will not be given custody and may be barred from any type of visitation altogether. The family court is not likely to award alimony if one spouse deserted the family or committed adultery.
How Much Does a Divorce Cost?
Divorce courts charge filing fees, for example, when you file your petition for divorce. In addition, courts charge additional fees for any motions (legal requests) that you file during your divorce action. Finally, you will have to cover the costs of serving your spouse with divorce paperwork. Court fees vary from parish to parish. Check your local court website for more information about fees.
In addition to court costs, you will incur legal fees if you hire an attorney. Most divorce attorneys charge clients an hourly rate, which can vary depending on the skills and experience of the professional. The fees can range anywhere from $150 to $350 per hour.
A contested divorce can end up costing thousands of dollars in court costs and legal fees if the couple continues to fight and cannot work out a settlement.
How Long Will my Divorce Take?
A no-fault divorce can be granted in Louisiana if the couple has lived separate and apart for at least six months and does not have children from the marriage.
Couples who have children are required to live separate and apart for a continuous period of one year before a court will grant a divorce.
In fault-based divorces, the spouses must live separately for a continuous period of two years before a final divorce decree will be issued.
How is Marital Property Divided in Louisiana?
Divorcing couples can work out a “marital separation agreement” where they agree to split assets and debts any way they choose. A court will want to review the agreement, however, to ensure that the division is fair and that property is divided equally between spouses. For example, if one spouse is awarded the family home, the other one must receive property or assets of equal value.
Marital property must be split evenly, unless the couple has a valid pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement that indicates the couple agreed to a different type of division.
Finally, assets either spouse owned before the marriage are not viewed as community property; rather, these will be considered “separate” property and not eligible to be split between the pair.
How are Retirement Assets Divided?
Determining how to divide retirement benefits can be a very difficult process. It's important to seek guidance from an experienced attorney and/or financial advisor who can determine which accounts are eligible to be divided and take all steps necessary to make sure they are divided correctly.
The values of IRA and 401(k) plans are fairly easy figure out because a statement is issued showing how much is in each account. Pension plans, on the other hand, are not paid out until after retirement, and therefore, may be difficult to value today. Many couples must hire an actuary in order to determine the present value of a pension.
Depending on the type of plan, you may also need a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) from the court, which enables a plan administrator to divide benefits between spouses (either during divorce or at a later date).
If you need a QDRO in your divorce, you should contact an attorney specializing in QDROs for help.
How is Child Custody Decided?
In most cases, family courts want to make sure that both parents remain an active part of their children’s lives, as long as it is in the best interests of the child. They typically favor joint custody, unless one parent poses a danger to the kids.
For more information about child custody in Louisiana, see Child Custody in Louisiana: The Best Interests of the Child, by Emily Doskow.
What Are the Child Support Guidelines in Louisiana?
Louisiana courts refer to the state’s child support guidelines when setting child support obligations. The following factors are considered:
- both parents’ gross income
- any community property, assets, and debts
- any alimony that’s been awarded to one of the parents
- the number of children requiring support
- any extraordinary needs that affect the children requiring support, and
- whether a parent has any other minor children to support.
What about Spousal Support or Alimony?
Spousal support may be awarded to one spouse. The amount will be determined based on several factors, including:
- the financial need of the spouse requesting support
- each spouse’s income and financial obligations
- each spouse’s earning capacity (ability to earn income based on various factors, including education, job skills and history, and local employment opportunities)
- the age and health of both spouses, and
- the length of the marriage.
For more information on Alimony in Louisiana, see Understanding and Calculating Alimony in Louisiana, by Desiree Howard.
Can We Reach a Marital Settlement Agreement out of Court?
Couples may work out an agreement outside of court if their split is amicable and uncontested. If they still have a few issues to resolve, these can be worked out through mediation.
What Happens If We Can’t Agree on Settlement Terms?
Many divorcing spouses are unable to agree on a settlement. If so, they must proceed to trial where a judge will divide their property, award alimony, and set the child support obligation. The court will also decide what is in the best interests of the children when awarding custody.
Obviously, the more time a couple spends fighting, the higher their legal fees and court costs will be. Therefore, it may be best to try and work out a solution that’s fair to everyone: before heading to court.