Louisiana does not recognize abuse as a grounds for divorce. However, a woman facing physical abuse in her marriage can obtain a protective order while her divorce case is pending in Louisiana. Under typical circumstances, divorce can be a lengthy process with hearing dates set months apart. When a woman is in an abusive relationship, the courts will attempt to expedite the process and help the family work out matters like property division and child custody. Battered women may also have access to other resources in the form of protective shelters, counseling or medical services.
Grounds for Divorce
A spouse filing for divorce in Louisiana can either allege fault by the other spouse or file for a no-fault divorce. The state's available fault-based grounds for divorce are adultery or commission of a felony resulting in a death sentence or imprisonment. If a spouse is choosing no-fault and does not have children, she must live separate and apart from her spouse for at least six months before the divorce will be granted. If there are children resulting from the marriage, the spouses must live separate and apart for one year. However, this requirement can be reduced to six months if a spouse can show physical or sexual abuse of herself or children, or has a protective order in place against the other spouse.
A battered woman may need to flee an abusive marriage immediately. To gain legal protection against the abuser, the battered woman can obtain an emergency order from a judge without the abuser present. This is known as an ex parte hearing. If the judge is satisfied that the woman is in immediate danger, usually requiring at least one serious incident in the last 30 days, a temporary restraining order likely will be awarded. Two to three weeks later, a hearing will take place with the abusive spouse present to determine if a permanent protective order is necessary.
The divorce process begins in Louisiana after a petition for divorce is filed in the parish where the filing spouse resides. The petition should state whether the divorce is no-fault or fault-based, whether there are children from the marriage and the address of both spouses. The non-filing spouse must be served with a copy of the complaint, and both spouses must submit an income affidavit, which is a document verifying the marital property and income of the parties. In lieu of service, the responding spouse can sign a waiver confirming he has received the divorce complaint, which is returned to the court.
Settlement or Trial
The timetable for finalizing the divorce will depend heavily on the number of issues at hand, complexity of assets and debts to divide and cooperation by the other spouse. Once the court receives proof that the responding spouse was served with the divorce complaint, the court will schedule a hearing. In the meantime, parties may privately settle divorce matters concerning child support, child custody, visitation, property division and alimony. If the parties cannot agree, a hearing will be held in which witnesses will testify and evidence is presented. The presence of abuse in the marriage will likely affect the court's decisions with regard to child custody and visitation.