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Louisiana Divorce Process
Preparing the Divorce Papers
The parish courthouse of filing provides forms. The petition for divorce allows the petitioner/plaintiff to file for divorce in Louisiana easily and simply. In a no-fault action, the petitioner/plaintiff is not required to allege any misconduct on the part of defendant/plaintiff in order to divorce. The petition stipulates the terms and conditions of the divorce, including child support, alimony, or child custody.
Filing the Paperwork with the Court
Once the forms are completed, the petitioner/plaintiff files for divorce in the local (district) courthouse. If a person cannot afford to pay the filing fee, the court clerk provides information about fee waivers an indigent party can apply for. After verifying that the information is complete, the clerk time and date stamps the divorce papers.
Serving the Documents
As soon as possible after filing, the plaintiff/petitioner serves his or her spouse the divorce papers, which is also called service of process. This can be done in several ways. The defendant/respondent may also waive the service, and simply accept the summons. If the location of the spouse cannot be found after a reasonable search, the plaintiff/petitioner may file for divorce in Louisiana by publishing notice in the newspaper instead.
Disclosing Financial Information
Both spouses must file a financial affidavit either when a divorce is filed or fairly soon afterwards. The affidavit provides the court and the other spouse essential information pertaining to financial matters. The data is used both in settlement negotiations and as a guide for the judge should the case require a hearing or trial regarding financial issues.
In the financial disclosure, the same information is generally required of each spouse. This includes income from all sources, all expenses, a list of all assets and a list of all debts. The listed items should include everything owned jointly with the spouse. It should also indicate all separate property, which includes any property owned before marriage, as well as property individually acquired by gift or inheritance during the marriage. The information is assembled into a financial affidavit which is then filed with the court and exchanged between spouses.
Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce
Many people can save time and money in the divorce process in Louisiana by settling their divorce out of court and filing for an uncontested divorce. Settlement occurs when both parties in the divorce agree on child custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, and the division of marital property.
If it seems impossible to come to an agreement with the spouse over these issues, the spouse may be able to use a court-appointed mediator to help. Mediators are trained in helping people negotiate an agreement that is acceptable to both parties, even when emotionally charged issues like child custody are in dispute.
If the spouses cannot agree how to divide property and debts, they will proceed with a contested divorce, and eventually the court apportions these things equally. Gifts or inheritances are separate property and are not divided in a divorce. Divorce has tax consequences, so the parties must consider filing status, dependents and other deductions in the decree.
Finalizing the Divorce
If issues are still disputed after negotiating, the parties go to a divorce trial. This can be expensive and emotionally difficult for not only both spouses, but also any children caught in the crossfire. Sometimes, the divorce process in Louisiana is heavily litigated and involves several expert witnesses for each side who help to argue for one spouse receiving some marital property or child custody.
Once the trial is finished and the judge issues an official divorce judgment, the court issues a divorce as soon as the “separate and apart” requirements have been fulfilled.
Even if you are able to negotiate a settlement, the divorce process in Louisiana requires spouses to meet a requirement of living “separate and apart” for a designated amount of time prior to a divorce being finalized. If there are no children, this requirement will be 180 days. Couples with children, in most cases (unless there has been spousal abuse), need to wait one full year for their divorce decree to be finalized.
One must also take into account the time the court takes to review the divorce paperwork. The court can take as long as is needed and if there are discrepancies within the divorce paperwork or Divorce Agreement, the court review could extend the finalization.
Community property is divided equally between the spouses. If an asset cannot be divided, such as a house, the Louisiana court will award other property or cash to compensate the spouse for his or her portion. The court can divide property unequally if it finds a valid reason. For example, Louisiana divorce laws allow a spouse to be reimbursed for the cost of the other spouse's education expenses during the marriage. In this instance the court could legally award more marital property to one spouse as a means of reimbursement. If the court deviates from an equal division, however, it must explain why it did so in its final judgment of divorce.
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