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Louisiana Republican Party considers backing elimination of no-fault divorce

The Louisiana State Capitol. March 2021.
Phoebe Jones
The Louisiana State Capitol. March 2021.

The Republican Party of Louisiana is debating whether to recommend the elimination of no-fault divorce, a change that would make it more difficult for couples to dissolve their marriages if enacted.

The Louisiana Republican State Central Committee was scheduled to take up a resolution at its meeting Saturday encouraging state lawmakers to eliminate no-fault divorce, but its author, Nicholas James, decided to send the measure back to the committee’s resolution-vetting group for more work.

One Republican attending Saturday’s meeting objected to the repeal of no-fault divorce, on the grounds she might still be in an unhappy marriage to a gay man if it hadn’t been an option. The party leadership could still bring up the resolution for a vote at future meetings.

GOP members are targeting no-fault divorce because they believe it has weakened of the institution of marriage.

“Louisiana marriage laws have destroyed the institute of marriage over the past thirty to fifty years,” an initial draft of James’ resolution reads. “The destruction of marriage has resulted in widespread child poverty in Louisiana.”

In Louisiana, a no-fault divorce is one in which neither spouse assumes blame for the failure of the marriage. They are typically easier and cheaper to execute than fault-based divorces, where it must be proven that one spouse is responsible for the dissolution of their marriage.

Fault-based divorces are more likely to result in a lopsided allocation of spousal support, division of assets and access to children. They are granted when a spouse is convicted of a major crime, committed adultery or abusive.

By contrast, Louisiana couples seeking a no-fault divorce must only prove they have lived separately for six months if they have no underage children and for a year if they have minor children. No responsibility for the dissolution needs to be found.

King Alexander, a Lake Charles attorney who oversees the Republican Party’s resolutions committee, said the recommendation against no-fault divorce is not controversial among GOP state central committee members. But he expects judges and civil attorneys to put up a fight if the Legislature seriously considered eliminating it.

Without a no-fault divorce option, civil courts would be burdened with more fault-based divorce hearings and couples who agreed to split would be forced to make “ugly allegations” in order to dissolve their marriages, Alexander said.

Louisiana residents who have strong objections to divorce can also opt into a covenant marriage, which makes getting a divorce more difficult.

People in a covenant marriage who want a divorce must go through marriage counseling and be separated for at least 18 months if they have underage children. In all other cases – including those involving spousal or child abuse – couples in covenant marriages have to be separated for at least a year before a divorce can be granted, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

Conservatives have championed the repeal of no-fault divorce laws across the country in recent years, but almost all states still have no-fault divorce laws on the books. Just two, Mississippi and South Dakota, don’t offer a no-fault option.

In Mississippi, there’s been a years-long effort to allow no-fault divorces. A task force concluded divorce was more expensive in Mississippi because it doesn’t have no-fault divorce. Advocates for victims of domestic violence have also said the lack of no-fault divorce traps parents and children in abusive situations, according to Mississippi Today.

Last year, a Republican senator in Mississippi filed no-fault divorce legislation, but the bill failed to get out of a House committee after conservative Christian groups objected to it.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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