Uncontested Divorce in Louisiana
Learn the process of uncontested divorce in Louisiana.
Roseanne Barr famously quipped that everyone should take marriage seriously, because it has to last until the divorce. It's a wisecrack, but one that gets at a basic home truth: going through a divorce can be exquisitely painful.
Fortunately, no one is doomed to a certain fate of sky-high attorney fees and courtroom battles. If you and your spouse are on relatively friendly terms and you're capable of working together and compromising, you may be able to get an uncontested divorce that will save you time and money.
This article will explain uncontested divorces in Louisiana. If you still have questions after reading this article, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney.
What is an Uncontested Divorce in Louisiana?
In general, an uncontested divorce simply means that both spouses agree on all the key terms of the divorce, including:
- child custody and visitation, including where your children will live
- child support, health and dental insurance, and medical expenses for the children
- tax deductions and exemptions
- division of the marital assets and debts
- alimony, and
- any other dispute involving your marriage.
If you or your spouse disagree about any of these items, your divorce will be considered "contested" and it will have to go to trial, although you can still settle your case at any time up to the trial date.
Louisiana has some procedural rules in its civil code which have the effect of speeding up uncontested divorces:
- If the petitioner (the spouse who starts the divorce) files a petition for divorce and proves that 180 days (if there are no underage children) or 365 days (if there are) have passed since the petition was served on the respondent (the other spouse), and that the spouses have been living separately for that whole time, then the court will grant the divorce. This means the petitioner must show the spouses were separated after the petition was served.
- If the petitioner files for divorce and proves that the spouses have already been living apart for 180 or 365 days, as the case may be, then the court will grant the divorce. This means the petitioner must show that the spouses were separated before the petition was filed.
Neither of the above options is available if you have a covenant marriage. They only apply to regular marriages.
Special requirements for obtaining a divorce in Louisiana
To file for divorce in Louisiana, you must meet the residency requirement by living in the state for at least one year before the divorce begins.
You must also supply the court with grounds (legal reasons) for your divorce. As long as you can show that you and your spouse have been separated and living apart for at least 180 days (if you don't have kids together) or 365 days (if you do have children), the court will be satisfied that there's a reason for the divorce. You won't have to go into court, air your dirty laundry, and argue about the intimate details of your marriage—although if you want, you can chalk up the divorce to adultery or felony conviction.
There's one exception: if you have a covenant marriage, you can't get an uncontested divorce. Instead, you'll have to undergo counseling to save your marriage, and you'll also have to supply fault-based grounds for why the marriage failed, including one or more of the following:
- felony conviction
- abandonment for at least a year
- physical or sexual abuse of a spouse or the children
- separation for at least two years, or
- separation for one year (or 18 months in the case of a divorce with minor children) from the date a legal separation was signed.
The key here is that to get an uncontested divorce, you have to agree on everything—including the grounds. If you opt for a fault-based ground like adultery, your spouse is much more likely to want to argue about the divorce instead of cooperate with you.
The Uncontested Divorce Process
Find the correct court
You’re responsible for knowing where to file your papers. If you file in the wrong place, your case could be tossed out or transferred and you might have to start over. The Louisiana Judicial Branch has a website you can use to identify each judicial district and the district courts it includes.
Louisiana's courts are organized differently than most other states. Louisiana has 43 district courts, 5 family or juvenile courts, 49 city courts, and 3 parish courts, so it can be a little daunting to figure out the system if you're new to it.
The district courts are the basic entry-level trial courts for the state, and they have the jurisdiction (authority) to handle all civil and criminal cases, including divorces. You'll need to file your divorce papers in the parish where you live or the parish where your spouse lives.
Complete your divorce forms
If you want to initiate the divorce, the first thing you'll need to do is locate the correct forms and complete them. Louisiana divorce forms vary from courthouse to courthouse, but in general, the online forms used by the Orleans Parish are a good example of what you can expect to find. You may also be able to use LawHelp Interactive to createdivorce forms online.
When you get the forms, take your time and work carefully. Type everything on a computer or print neatly. If you rush through the papers and make mistakes, your divorce could be delayed. Feel free to talk to the court clerks who work in the courthouse, but keep in mind that they can’t give you any legal advice.
You may be able to find the answers to some of your questions or legal assistance from Louisiana Law Help (legal aid and free divorce information), Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, or through the Parish of Orleans Civil District Court's Legal Assistance Information page. If you still have specific questions about your case, you should consult with a family law attorney in your area.
File and serve your paperwork
Generally speaking, you'll need to prepare a petition for divorce and a settlement agreement that resolves all your issues. Then you'll file and serve it according to the rules of your parish courthouse.
There are filing and service fees, but if you can't pay them, just ask the clerk for a fee waiver form. You'll fill it out by furnishing your income information, and if a judge agrees that you're indigent (below the poverty line), you won't have to pay fees to serve or file documents. However, you will still have to pay for certified copies of your divorce papers.
If the terms of your settlement agreement are fair, reasonable and comport with Louisiana law, the judge will approve it and finalize your divorce.