Can I get a divorce in Louisiana? What forms do I file, and can I do it without an attorney?

I’m trying to get a simple divorce. My husband and I have no kids, share no bank accounts or property. I’ve called many LA courthouses today and they all have told me something different.

Q – Can I get a divorce in the state of Louisiana?

You must file for divorce in the court of proper jurisdiction and venue that has the authority to grant your divorce. Two criteria apply:

–      Residence requirements: Where you live now or last lived together with your spouse.

In Louisiana, jurisdiction and venue is proper if :

1) The last “matrimonial domicile” was in that jurisdiction, and

2) One or both of the parties still live in the jurisdiction.

–      Authority of the Court: Which particular court in your area is the proper court for filing divorce suits.

States are divided into separate jurisdictional districts. In Louisiana, some of jurisdictional districts contain only one parish, and some contain several.

And, there are different courts with different realms of authority within different jurisdictions: city, civil, family, juvenile, federal, etc.

In many parishes, the state judicial district court is the proper jurisdiction for divorce, but in other parishes it is not. For instance, East Baton Rouge Parish, where I’m located, is in the 19th Judicial District of the state court systems, but The Family Court of and for East Baton Rouge Parish is the court of proper jurisdiction for filing divorces.

So it is important to first determine your court of proper jurisdiction. If you and your spouse are separated and live in different parishes, you may have a choice of jurisdictions.

If you’re uncertain about your jurisdiction, it may be a good idea to call the Clerk of Court offices in your area to determine where you should file.

Q – Which forms should I file, and can I do it without an attorney?

Divorce forms are substantially standard throughout the state of Louisiana, but different courts have different rules and requirements for the heading at the top of the first page of the petition. You can find court rules online, and the Clerk of Court may be able to give you particular information, though most don’t distribute forms.

In short, most Louisiana couples use no-fault divorce procedures that require the husband and wife live separately and apart in different residences for a period of time. If the couple has children under the age of 18, the time required is one year (365 days); and if there are no children, the time required is six months (180 days).

The two no-fault divorce statutes require different procedural processes, so it is important to file under the proper statute. Louisiana Civil Code Article 102 and the process it requires apply to a couple who are just separating and want to begin the divorce process while living apart. Louisiana Civil Code Article 103 applies to a couple who have already lived apart for the required period of time and want to get a judgment of divorce.

Though not all courts offer such service, the East Baton Rouge Parish Family Court and the Baton Rouge Bar Association offer free forms and help with filling them out and understanding the process through the Self-help desk. You can find out more information by visiting the Baton Rouge Bar website or calling their office.

Other important considerations:  The Louisiana community property laws apply if you were married in this state or if you were married in another place but moved to this state. Divorce procedures have important consequences for property the couple owns together, but can also have consequences for property each person owned before the marriage. These laws and consequences apply to everything acquired during the marriage including such things as earnings, intellectual property rights and retirement benefits. Property that you or your spouse may consider “yours” and “mine” may actually be community property in which both spouses have rights.

Most attorneys will meet with you for a one-time consultation fee (ranging from free to several hundred dollars). It is usually a good idea to invest in a consultation to be certain about your property rights. If you situation is as simple as you think it is, you may be able to continue without an attorney.

If you do decide you need an attorney, any attorney licensed in Louisiana can work in any Louisiana jurisdiction, but it is usually best and least expensive to find an attorney who practices frequently within your particular jurisdiction.

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