In order to start the divorce process without a lawyer, you’ll need to complete some forms. The forms are not readily available from the Louisiana Judicial Branch, but you can go to your local parish courthouse and request a complete packet of divorce papers. Divorce forms will vary from courthouse to courthouse, but a good example of what you can generally expect to see is available on the East Baton Rouge Parish Family Court's website.
Another alternative is to go to the Louisiana Law Help's interactive divorce form, which has an online interface that helps you prepare the correct form. The interactive divorce form is a free service provided by Louisiana Law Help, which is a joint project of Louisiana's various legal aid societies.
The "petitioner" is the spouse who initiates the divorce, and the "respondent" is the spouse who receives the petitioner's divorce papers. The documents that the petitioner always needs to begin the divorce process are:
Don't sign any affidavits, oaths, or sworn statements unless and until you're in the presence of a notary. When you work on the forms, be thorough and complete in responding to the questions. Fill out the forms on a computer if you can. If not, write or print neatly and legibly.
When you’re ready, make two copies of all documents. Eventually you will give one to the other spouse and keep the other for yourself. The original will be filed with the court.
Go to your local courthouse and ask to file the documents. It's very important that you file in the right courthouse, or your divorce will be invalid. Louisiana's trial courts, which handle divorces, are divided into different districts. One district can cover multiple parishes, so if you have any questions or are unsure whether you're filing in the right courthouse, ask the clerk of court. You can file for divorce in the parish where you live or the parish where your spouse lives.
You’ll need to pay a fee to file your documents unless you complete an Affidavit to Proceed In Forma Pauperis, which can be obtained from the clerk of court and will be reviewed by the court. If the court agrees that the fee should be waived because you can’t afford it, you won't have to pay to file documents in your case.
When you give your documents to the clerk of court, they will be dated, stamped, and a file will be created in the courthouse. Serve your spouse with a set of the signed, stamped photocopies as soon as possible after leaving.
When you’ve prepared and filed your forms, you should immediately "serve" your spouse with the documents. "Service of process" is very important in the American legal system because it ensures that everyone has notice about what’s going on and an opportunity to “appear,” or argue, their point of view. Service of process ensures that no one is ever “ambushed” in a courtroom.
If your spouse is an adult who is pro se (meaning, has not hired a lawyer), then you should serve your spouse directly at the location at your spouse’s home address. If your spouse has retained a lawyer, serve the lawyer at the lawyer’s office and don’t send copies to your spouse.
If you are the petitioner and you will be serving your spouse within the State of Louisiana, special service rules apply. You have three basic options:
Different rules may apply if you are trying to serve someone who is hard to locate, in the military, or in jail. Check with the clerk of court for more advice in these unusual situations.
Both the petitioner and the respondent have to complete a Financial Affidavit. This document details each spouse’s financial picture, from employment to assets to liabilities and monthly expenses. Certain supplemental documents, like pay stubs and tax returns, may have to be attached. This helps everyone to understand more about, for example, how much child support should be paid, how the property and debts should be divided, and whether one spouse should receive alimony. Make sure you are clear, detailed, and candid when you complete this form. File it with the court and serve it upon your spouse as well.
See our topic page on Louisiana Divorce and Family Laws to find information on the divorce process as well as related legal issues.
If you need extra help or if you just have questions, Louisiana Law Help hosts a divorce topic page that offers information and resources on divorce and parenting issues. Louisiana Law Help also offers a video about divorce in Louisiana that you can watch on your computer.
If you need extra help, you can ask for help by contacting Louisiana's legal aid programs, which serve qualifying low-income and elderly Louisiana residents with legal problems.