Divorce Laws in Louisiana

by Beverly Bird

In setting its divorce legislation, Louisiana adopted the community property concept found in French law. If you’re married, half of what you own and half of what you earn while married rightfully belongs to your spouse. This makes property division relatively uncomplicated. The state’s other divorce laws aren’t all as simple, however.

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Filing Requirements

To end what Louisiana terms a “standard” marriage, you must have lived in the state for a year. The state offers both fault and no-fault grounds. You can receive a no-fault divorce if you and your spouse have lived separately for six months or more. Otherwise, if you want to file on fault grounds, you can use adultery, abandonment, sexual or physical abuse or the imprisonment of your spouse. Louisiana also recognizes covenant marriages. A covenant marriage involves making a written declaration at the time you apply for your marriage license, promising that you’re marrying for life. You can retract this vow, but you must file on fault grounds; the no-fault option is not available to you.

Custody

All states award custody based on a concept called “the best interests of the child,” but exactly what constitutes those interests varies somewhat from state to state. In Louisiana, the courts lean toward not removing a child from the home he’s grown up in, whenever possible. The court may prefer the parent who was his primary caregiver prior to the divorce. A judge will take the child’s wishes into consideration if he’s mature enough. A parent who goes out of her way to help her child maintain a strong relationship with his other parent is generally favored. Article 131 of Louisiana’s Code of Civil Procedure allows a judge to order parents to attend mediation in a contentious custody dispute. If this fails, a judge will ordinarily order a custody evaluation. The evaluator makes a recommendation to the court, and while the recommendation isn’t binding, a judge can use it to guide his decision if the matter goes to trial.

Child Support

Louisiana uses the income shares model when determining child support in a divorce. This formula combines the income of both parents and sets aside a percentage of the total for the needs of the children. The court then divides that number proportionately between the parents. For example, if one parent earns 60 percent of the combined income, and if the amount set aside for the children is $200 per week, that parent would be responsible for contributing $120 per week, or 60 percent of $200, if he's not the custodial parent. A judge may deviate from the formula for special needs.

Property

Under community property law, Louisiana judges usually divide all marital assets and debts down the middle when a couple divorces unless the parties have an agreement outside a court ruling. However, property that isn’t marital, separate property, is exempt. Separate property includes anything you owned before you were married as long as you've maintained ownership of it in your sole name. It also includes gifts and inheritances you received while you were married. However, if you placed such money in a joint account, it loses its exemption as your separate property. A judge might deviate from the 50/50 rule to give the marital home to the custodial parent to avoid forcing the children to move, but he will generally balance this by giving the other parent assets of equal value.