You've probably heard it said that all states now offer no-fault divorce, in which you don't have to charge your spouse with bad acts in order to get a divorce. All states must include Louisiana, right? Well, sort of. Louisiana does offer a variety of no-fault divorce, but you have to live apart for many months to qualify. If you optimistically opted for Louisiana's "covenant" marriage in which you affirm that the marriage is to last forever, the living-apart period is even longer, but you are able to get a partial divorce ("divorce from bed and board") first.
Both of these pre-divorce separations can be referred to as "legal separation" in Louisiana. Is there a law authorizing "regular" legal separations in Louisiana? There is not. The statutes regarding filing for legal separation were taken out of the code when no-fault divorce was introduced.
What Is a Legal Separation?
In many states, legal separation is a divorce alternative. A couple can decide that the marriage just isn't working out, but, instead of filing for dissolution, they can opt to file for legal separation. Don't think that you can make this decision as a way of avoiding all of the tough decisions and negotiations that are part of a divorce. You still have to walk the walk, deciding child custody and child support issues, as well as financial issues. You have to figure out how to divide property between the two spouses, including both assets and debt, and resolve spousal support issues, too.
Often couples seeking a legal separation come to an agreement between themselves about these issues. They may do this by sitting down at the table and pounding out a settlement, but they can also work with a mediator, a neutral person trained in state divorce and separation law. If they can both agree to a negotiated separation agreement that resolves all of these issues, a court will usually accept it and grant them a legal separation.
What does this look like? It looks like a divorce, except for one important factor: the couple remains married and neither can marry someone else. Note that it is quite easy to convert a legal separation to a divorce in many states, since all of the hard work is done. But some couples prefer a legal separation for religious or personal reasons.
Louisiana Separation Laws
Unlike many other states, Louisiana laws do not provide for a general divorce alternative known as legal separation. The laws about divorce in this state are found in the Civil Code starting at section 102. They do not present any option for legal separation as a particular status other than as a step to divorce in covenant marriages. It may be that, if you can work out a separation agreement with your spouse in Louisiana, it can be enforced by a Louisiana court as a contract. But there are no separation laws in Louisiana, other than those related to the covenant marriage, and there are no general Louisiana marriage separation forms.
Marriage in Louisiana
Before you understand divorce in Louisiana, you'll need to read up about the complexities of the different types of marriage in this state. Those wanting to marry in Louisiana must opt between a "regular" marriage and a "covenant" marriage. The former looks pretty much like marriage anywhere, while the latter requires extensive premarital couple's counseling resulting in a signed, sworn affidavit that each of the parties to the marriage understand a marriage to be a lifetime commitment.
It will surprise no one that it is more difficult to get a divorce after a covenant marriage than after a regular marriage. While those joined in a regular marriage in Louisiana must go through a lengthy separation period before no-fault divorce, "covenant" couples must again do court-approved therapy and wait an even longer period.
Divorce in Louisiana
Most legal separations in Louisiana are a "prequel" to divorce. If you entered into a regular marriage in Louisiana, you can get an immediate fault divorce by proving adultery or imprisonment for a felony conviction and similar offenses. But if you want a no-fault divorce, you have to wait out a period of time when you are not living together. This separation period is 180 days if you have no minor kids or 365 days if you do. There is no provision in Louisiana law about how to regulate finances and other issues during this period.
For a covenant divorce, the complications are many. You can seek a fault-based divorce if you can prove certain grounds like adultery, abuse, a specified period of abandonment or imprisonment for a felony conviction. Again, these fault divorces do not require a waiting period. If you prefer a no-fault divorce, you can get one only if you live apart for at least two years. However, if you get a legal separation, called a divorce or separation from bed and board in Louisiana, you have less of a wait.
Separation from Bed and Board
You can obtain a divorce in a covenant marriage in one year on the grounds of living separate and apart if you get a separation from bed and board. Note that even this has strings attached: you must attend counseling throughout the period of separation to try to save the marriage.
The statute providing for divorce or separation from bed and board in a covenant marriage is found in the Louisiana Revised Statutes at section RS 9:307. It states that all of the possible grounds for a divorce or separation for bed and board in a covenant marriage are those specified in the law. The first four grounds are the usual suspects for fault marriages, starting with adultery. The fifth and sixth grounds both involve the couple living separately and apart continuously without reconciliation, meaning no sexual contact.
The ground presented in Section §307(5) is that the spouses have been "living separate and apart continuously without reconciliation" for a period of two years. This is essentially the no-fault option. The ground presented in Section (6)(a) requires less of a wait, but the spouses must have obtained a judgment of separation from bed and board. In that case, the separation period is reduced to one year from the date the judgment of separation from bed and board was signed. Section (6) (b) ups that to 18 months if there is a minor child or children of the marriage.
Filing for Separation in Louisiana
So, how to you get a separation from bed and board in Louisiana? That same statute sets out the grounds for this. These grounds look very similar to the grounds for a fault divorce, and include proof that the other spouse has committed adultery, has been sentenced to death or imprisonment at hard labor for a felony, has abandoned the family for a year or more, has physically or sexually abused the spouse seeking the divorce or a child of one of the spouses, or is an alcoholic.
The final grounds for a separation from bed and board in Louisiana is that the spouses have been living separate and apart continuously without reconciliation for a period of two years. It's a lot to prove, but if you qualify for a separation from bed and board, you essentially have a legal separation. The court is allowed to grant not just the separation but also any other relief the court could give in a divorce. That specifically includes spousal support, child support, child custody, visitation, claims for contributions to education, and possession and use of a family residence.