How to File for Divorce of a Covenant Marriage in Louisiana
By David Carnes
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In Louisiana, a "covenant marriage" is an alternative to an ordinary marriage. A covenant marriage is one in which the couple agrees, during times of marital difficulty, to take all reasonable steps necessary to preserve their marriage, including marital counseling, before seeking a divorce. Additionally, it eliminates most "no-fault" divorce options; therefore, a spouse who later wants a divorce must prove one of several grounds for divorce allowed under Louisiana's covenant marriage law. For these reasons, divorce after a covenant marriage is much more difficult and time-consuming than a typical no-fault divorce. However, Louisiana does not require marrying couples to enter into covenant marriages. It is their choice.
Confirm you meet residency requirements that will allow Louisiana courts to assert jurisdiction over your divorce. At least one spouse must have resided in Louisiana for at least 12 months prior to the filing of the divorce petition. Although you don't have to prove residency before filing a divorce petition, your case could be thrown out of court if neither spouse is a resident of Louisiana and one spouse brings this fact to the attention of the court.
Seek marriage counseling if your spouse opposes the divorce. Although marriage counseling is not required to obtain a divorce, your spouse may sue you for breach of the Declaration of Intent -- a document both spouses must sign before entering into a covenant marriage -- for failure to take "all reasonable steps" to preserve the marriage. Your participation in marriage counseling must be in good faith -- you cannot protect yourself from a lawsuit by simply "going through the motions."
Identify grounds for dissolution of your marriage. Possible grounds include adultery, imprisonment, a death sentence, abandonment for at least one year, physical or sexual abuse, substance abuse, habitual cruel treatment, living apart for at least two years and living apart for at least one year after a legal separation.
Complete a Louisiana divorce petition. Your petition must list and explain your asserted grounds for the divorce. It may not simply allege grounds for divorce -- it must state specific facts that, if proved, will entitle you to a divorce. It must also address issues such as property division, child custody, child support and alimony. If you and your spouse have reached agreement on these issues, you may sign a marital settlement agreement with your spouse and file it along with your divorce petition. Since the requirements for a divorce petition are quite formal, it is best to seek outside help preparing your petition.
Prepare a summons and a proposed order. A summons is a document that formally notifies your spouse that you have filed a divorce petition and a proposed order is a divorce decree that requires only the judge's signature to enforce it. Both of these forms are standardized and "fill in the blanks" versions can be obtained from some Louisiana courts.
File your divorce petition and accompanying documentation in a Louisiana parish where either spouse resides, along with the appropriate filing fee. The filing fee varies by jurisdiction. A Louisiana state official will deliver a copy of your petition and summons to your spouse.
You may evade Louisiana's covenant marriage divorce restrictions by establishing residence in a state without covenant marriage and filing for divorce there.
You must assemble evidence to support your asserted grounds for divorce in preparation for the divorce trial or hearing. Two main types of evidence can be used -- testimonial evidence and documentary evidence. Testimonial evidence is based on the testimony of eyewitnesses -- testimony from your spouse's lover, for example. Documentary evidence can include medical reports, photographs of injuries or a long-term lease showing that your spouse has moved out of state.
David Carnes has been a full-time writer since 1998 and has published two full-length novels. He spends much of his time in various Asian countries and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. He earned a Juris Doctorate from the University of Kentucky College of Law.