Do-it-Yourself Divorce in Louisiana

By David Carnes

In Louisiana, you are entitled to represent yourself in a divorce proceeding, although doing so may be unwise if the divorce is contested or if the issues involved are complex. Louisiana offers both fault-based and no-fault divorce. Louisiana also offers a "covenant marriage," which restricts the available grounds for divorce. You can obtain the necessary forms along with aid filling them out from an online legal document preparation service.

Residence, Venue and Jurisdiction

To obtain a divorce in Louisiana, one spouse must have resided in Louisiana for at least six months prior to filing for divorce, although in some cases this period may be shortened. Normally, a Louisiana driver's license or non-driver's ID issued at least six months prior to the filing date is sufficient to establish residence. You may file for divorce in the Louisiana district court in the parish where you live, where your spouse lives, or where you both last lived together. Louisiana will grant a divorce even if you were married in another state, but it will not grant a divorce if you married in Louisiana but both spouses live outside of Louisiana at the time the divorce petition is filed. You don't need to submit proof of Louisiana residence with your divorce petition, but you should bring a Louisiana government-issued photo ID to any hearings in case your Louisiana residence is challenged. If you lack appropriate identification, a lease or a voter registration card may be acceptable.

No-Fault Vs. Fault Divorce

Louisiana's no-fault divorce statute does not require either spouse to prove fault on the part of the other spouse for a divorce to be granted--all that needs to be shown is that at least one spouse wants a divorce. A spouse may also obtain a divorce based on fault if he can show that the other spouse committed adultery, or was convicted of a felony and sentenced to either death or imprisonment at hard labor. An at-fault divorce may allow the petitioning spouse to receive advantages such as child custody or a greater share of marital assets. In both types of divorces, the spouses must have been separated for at least six months before filing for divorce, or must live apart for six months after filing for divorce. The six-month waiting period is extended to one year if there are minor children of the marriage. When you attend a hearing, you should bring documentary proof to support your claims--a lease proving that you have lived apart from your spouse for the required period of time, for example, or a certified copy of your spouse's criminal history. Eyewitness testimony is also considered admissible evidence.

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Either spouse can initiate divorce proceedings by filing a Petition for Divorce in the appropriate Louisiana district court. Louisiana will serve a copy of the petition and a summons on the non-petitioning spouse. The non-petitioning spouse does have to file an answer. To obtain a final decree of divorce, the petitioning spouse must file a motion called a "Rule to Show Cause" after the waiting period has expired. You must prepare these forms in a particular format--for example, you must refer to yourself as "Petitioner/Plaintiff" and your spouse as ""Respondent/Defendant." Once you have filed your petition, the court will set a hearing date to allow the spouses to resolve issues such as alimony, property division, child custody and child support. Louisiana is a community property state, meaning that generally, all property acquired by either spouse during the marriage belongs to both spouses and is distributed equally upon divorce. The spouses may alter this distribution by signing an agreement on property division. The spouses may also agree on alimony, child custody and child support. The court is not obligated to accept the terms of such an agreement, however. Issues regarding children are resolved under the "best interests of the child" standard. If these issues are contested, both spouses are entitled to submit evidence and call witnesses.

Covenant Marriages

A Louisiana couple may voluntarily choose to enter into a "covenant marriage." Under a covenant marriage, no-fault divorce is impossible. Grounds for divorce include adultery, conviction of a felony and sentencing to death or imprisonment at hard labor, abandonment for one year by the non-petitioning spouse, physical or sexual abuse of the petitioning spouse or either spouse's child, voluntary separation for two years, or voluntary separation for one year after the commencement of a legal separation. If your spouse denies your asserted grounds for divorce, you will have to establish your claims through documentary evidence or witness testimony. If you have entered a covenant marriage in Louisiana and cannot establish any of these grounds for divorce, you can establish residency in a state that does not offer covenant marriages and seek a divorce there. Louisiana is required to recognize such a divorce under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

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The Different Types of Divorce in Louisiana


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