Louisiana is only one of a few states that recognize two types of marriages: traditional marriage and covenant marriage. Couples who commit to traditional marriage have the option to divorce at any time if they can meet the state's no-fault or fault-based divorce requirements. (LSA-C.C. Art. 103.)
Couples who enter into a covenant marriage do so with the knowledge that it's a lifelong commitment and it's more difficult to divorce or separate later. Covenant marriage is exempt from the state's no-fault divorce process, meaning you'll need to prove at least one of the following grounds:
Legal separation is like divorce in that both are legal processes which end a marriage. The divorce process begins when one spouse files a petition for divorce with the court. Most couples reach an agreement before the first court date. Both spouses must agree to the terms of the arrangement, which includes property division, child custody and visitation, child support, and spousal support. Typically, the couple will create a written agreement that lists the terms of the divorce and presents it to the judge for approval. Once the judge approves your divorce, both spouses are free to move on with life as single people, with the ability to remarry.
Legal separation is like divorce in that either spouse can file a motion (request) with the court and (usually) develop an agreement to address any divorce-related issues. If there's a disagreement, like a divorce, the court will resolve any problems before granting your request. (LSA-C.C. Art. 105.)
The key difference between divorce and legal separation is that at the end of the legal separation process, you're still legally married despite living entirely separate lives from each other. Neither spouse is free to pursue another marriage without first asking the court to covert the separation into a formal divorce.
In Louisiana, legal separation is only available to couples in a covenant marriage. To file for a legal separation, you must provide the court with a legal reason—or, grounds—for your request. Additionally, you will need to participate in marital counseling before the judge can grant your petition for separation.
The acceptable grounds for legal separation from a covenant marriage in Louisiana include physical or sexual abuse, abandonment, or a felony conviction. If your spouse isn't guilty of any misconduct, you may ask the court for a legal separation if you and your spouse have lived separate and apart, without reconciliation, for a minimum of two years. (LSA-R.S. 9:307.)
During the legal separation process, you should work with your spouse to negotiate the terms of your separation, which includes property and debt division, custody and visitation, child support, and alimony. Once you agree, you can present your written agreement to the judge for approval. If the court believes the contract is equitable (fair) to both spouses, a judge will sign it and finalize your separation.
In addition to the above requirements, you must meet the state's residency requirement, meaning that at least one spouse has lived in Louisiana for at least one year before filing.
Much like relationships in general, there's no right or wrong reason to pursue a separation instead of a divorce. Covenant marriages are complicated to terminate, and some couples find that it's easier to meet the requirements for separation. If you're not confident that divorce is right for your relationship, a legal separation offers a less permanent outcome than divorce.
Some other common reasons for choosing a separation instead of divorce include:
A trial separation is a way for the couple to evaluate whether divorce or permanent separation is right for the family. Unlike legal separation, trial separations are available to any married couple because it's not regulated or monitored by the court. Couples will generally live apart for a specific period which allows them to reassess the marriage before asking the court for help. Most couples will agree to the terms and conditions of the separation, but if you would like a more formal agreement, you can put it in writing. However, because the court doesn't monitor trial separations, if either spouse decides not to follow the arrangement, the other doesn't typically have any recourse.
At the end of the trial separation, the couple will either reconcile, pursue a legal separation, or file for divorce.
A separation agreement is a legally-binding contract that contains the terms and conditions for the separation. Whether you're seeking a divorce from traditional marriage, or a divorce or legal separation from a covenant marriage, the court requires a settlement agreement before the judge will finalize your case.
The agreement should contain essential information for your case, including:
The law doesn't require either spouse to hire an attorney for a divorce or legal separations. However, it would be beneficial for each spouse to consult with an experienced family law attorney before filing paperwork. The law for divorce and separation is continuously changing, so it's always best to have a knowledgeable advocate in your corner.