When you get swindled under Napoleonic code…

To outsiders our customs may be perceived as bizarre and our laws byzantine. Our state is divided by Parishes not Counties. We have neutral grounds not medians. And quite significantly, we govern by civil law not common law.

Intrinsic to a discussion of civil law is the topic of the Napoleonic Code. Its a dominating theme hammered into our collective consciousness. I still remember reading, and then watching A Streetcar Named Desire. The scene where Stanley Bekowski Kowalski (played by Marlon Brando) expresses what is his understanding of civil law:

“Now just let me enlighten you on a point or two… Now we got here in the state of Louisiana what’s known as the Napoleonic code. You see, now according to that, what belongs to the wife belongs to the husband also, and vice versa… It looks to me like you’ve been swindled baby. And when you get swindled under Napoleonic code, I get swindled too and I don’t like to get swindled…”

Except, this is not entirely the truth of the matter and legal theorist who read this discourse may be puzzled. Although seemingly innocuous, it is my opinion that statements such as the quote above, raise more questions than answers. Thereby, perpetuating the allure that surrounds our civil law system.

Does Louisiana have the Napoleonic code? No, but at one time it did. Does “what belongs to the wife belong to the husband, and vice versa”? Yes, Louisiana is among the 8+ community property states. However from a modern perspective Stanley has oversimplified the rule as it currently exists. And while the Napoleonic Code is a fun word to say, it is not the sole body of legal work that was the precursor to Louisiana law.

Much of Louisiana’s law is influenced by the Siete Partidas. Originally written between 1256-1265 the legal text is a compilation of laws, divided into seven parts.  Described as a “humanist encyclopedia” it addresses philosophical, theological, moral, and religious topics. Without expounding much further, there’s your history lesson for the day.