Louisiana has what is known as a community property law. This means that family law judges in the Pelican States are required to divide marital estates equally when divorcing spouses are not able to reach an amicable property division agreement. However, only community assets are divided, and most assets that were acquired before the marriage and some assets that were acquired during the marriage are considered separate property that is not subject to division. When determining whether an asset is community or separate property, judges will look at where the money used to purchase the asset came from and not the name on the title.
When a married couple divorces in Louisiana, each spouse is entitled to keep any assets they acquired before they got married and gifts, inheritances and damages awarded to compensate for pain and suffering they received or were awarded while they were married. These assets are only divided in a divorce when they become commingled with community property. This can happen when marital income is used to maintain or improve a home owned prior to a marriage or when community funds pay for the treatment of injuries suffered in an accident that leads to a lawsuit.
The community property law is only applied when judges are called upon to make property division decisions. Couples who would prefer to address these matters in a proactive way can enter into agreements that identify separate property and specify how community property should be divided. Couples planning to marry do not have to obtain court approval before entering into property division agreements, but married couples must convince a judge that the terms serve their interests and are basically fair.
When community property disputes are settled in court, grievances are aired in public and both spouses often walk away unhappy. Attorneys with experience in this area may suggest alternatives such as mediation when it seems traditional negotiations are unlikely to lead to an agreement. Mediation sessions are held in a less adversarial atmosphere, and they encourage divorcing couples to work toward an agreement by finding common ground.