District Of Columbia Divorce

Legal Overview

Divorce in DC requires that you have been resident for at least six months. There are two no-fault grounds upon which to obtain a divorce in DC, living separate and apart without cohabitation for one year, or mutual and voluntary separation without cohabitation for six months. Read our detailed legal summary of DC including grounds, residency, child custody, child support, alimony, mediation, property, and settlement agreements.


Divorce Process

Legal Separation:
A legal separation may be granted on either of the following grounds:  mutual and voluntary separation without cohabitation immediately prior to filing the complaint for divorce – no required duration, or living separate and apart without cohabitation for one year immediately prior to filing the complaint for divorce.  A legal separation is judicial recognition that the parties are living apart but it does not result in a final division of marital property and it does not permit the parties to remarry.

To receive a court-approved divorce it is not necessary to show that either one of the parties was at fault in the decline of the marriage. The assignment of fault may make a difference in terms of a court’s final determination of the division of property or alimony. If one party is determined to be at fault for the breakdown of the marriage, then the court may award the other party more property.  Fault is also one of the several factors the court must consider in determining alimony.

After a motion for divorce is filed a judge may determine that there is a chance of reconciliation and may order mandatory mediation for the spouses. Also one of the spouses may tell the court they think things can be worked out and may ask the court to have a hearing to see if the marriage is truly irretrievable. If the court concludes that there is a chance for the marriage to be repaired and there are minor children, the court may delay the proceedings for an attempt at reconciliation.

Settlement Agreement:
A settlement agreement is a written contract between the parties that sets forth their rights, duties and obligations that arise out of their separation and divorce.  It may include such things as the division of their property, alimony, attorney’s fees, custody of their children and child support.  Such agreements are encouraged since they may amicably settle the rights of the husband and wife in the estate and property of the other.  In most cases the court will follow the settlement agreement of the parties.  Once the Agreement is validly entered into it cannot be changed without the consent of both parties.  Child custody and support are exceptions to this rule.  The court always retains jurisdiction to modify child custody and support upon a material change in circumstances.


Residency Requirements

If you seek to file a divorce in DC, it is important to be aware of the residency requirements prior to filing for your divorce. In order to file for divorce you must have been a resident for at least six months immediately prior to filing your complaint.


Grounds for Divorce

There are two no-fault grounds available to those seeking a divorce:  mutual and voluntary separation without cohabitation for six months immediately prior to filing the complaint for divorce, or  living separate and apart without cohabitation for one year immediately prior to filing the complaint for divorce.  The separation does not have to be mutual or voluntary if it lasts for one year.


Division of Property

DC statutes provide for the equitable distribution of the marital property and marital debt of the marriage at the time of the final divorce between the parties. Marital Property is defined as all jointly owned property and all other property, other than separate property, acquired by either or both of the parties during the marriage and up to the time of the divorce of the parties. Separate Property is property owned by one party at the time of the marriage or inherited property or gifts to one party and maintained as separate property. If one party contributes funds or effort to the separate property of the other, or contributes his or separate funds to marital property, the Court may grant the contributing party an equitable lien in the property contributed to.

In making its equitable distribution awards the courts are not only authorized to make monetary awards to one of the parties, but may also divide or order sold or transfer jointly owned marital property to one of the parties. In making its equitable distribution awards, the court is not required to divide the marital property on an equal basis.  In deciding what an equitable division of marital property should be, the court will consider various factors, including the relative monetary and non-monetary contributions of each of the parties to the well being of the family and to the acquisition and care of the marital property. Pensions and retirement plans are subject to equitable distribution to the extent that the same were accumulated during the course of the marriage of the parties.


Spousal Support

Alimony, when awarded, may be for a defined period or for an indefinite period.  The amount and duration of alimony depends upon such factors as the respective ages, assets and earning potential of the parties and the duration and history of the marriage. Alimony is not awarded to punish a guilty spouse but rather is to lessen the financial impact of divorce on the other spouse. However, the cause of separation will be a factor that the court will consider in determining whether or not to award alimony.


Child Custody

In determining the custody of minor (under eighteen) children, the court has one standard–the best interests of the child. Custody can be joint or one parent can be awarded sole custody.  There is a presumption of joint custody in DC, unless there has been domestic violence, but the presumption can be overcome.  Custody will not be given to a parent as a reward or as punishment to the guilty parent but rather to the one most adaptable to the task of caring for the child and able to control and direct the child.

Other factors considered may include the age of the child, the physical and mental condition of the parent and child, the relationship existing between each parent and each child, the needs of the child, the role played by each parent in the upbringing and caring for the child, the home where the child will live and the child’s wishes if the child is of sufficient age, intelligence and maturity to make such a decision. Custody may be changed if there is a material change in circumstances.

The court will normally set visitation rights if the parents cannot voluntarily agree upon satisfactory arrangements. In contested cases, the court can require the parents to file detailed parenting plans.  An important factor to the court in most custody cases is which parent will be the most likely to see to it that the non-custodial parent remains a strong part of the child or children’s lives.


Child Support

The party not having custody will be called upon to contribute to the custodial parent for the support of the minor child. This could be an obligation of the mother, as well as the father, or both, if a third person has custody of the child. The court is guided by the needs of the child and the ability of the supporting parent or parents to pay. The use of the Child Support Guidelines provides an amount of child support that is presumed to be correct, but the court may deviate from these guidelines for good cause. The award is subject to change so long as the obligation to support remains. It may be increased or decreased if a material change occurs in the circumstances of either or both of the parents of the child.  Child support lasts until age 21 in DC.


District Of Columbia Resources


Laws & Courts:

District of Columbia Law – DC Statutes on domestic relations. First, scroll down to Division VIII. General Laws, Title 46.Domestic Relations. Click on Title 46, and click on Subtitle I. General. The information is listed in Chapters 1 through 6.
Superior Court- Family Division
District Court for the District of Columbia – offers an extensive library of rules and opinions, court schedules, and fee information.
District Court Forms – frequently requested legal forms, available for download (in PDF format).

Additional Resources:

DC Bar Online – includes consumer and public information site, legal archives, news and current court information from the District of Columbia Bar Association.

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Additional Links

The State Resource pages are provided for informational purposes only. Do not take any actions based upon the information contained within the State Resource pages without first consulting an attorney licensed in your state. We at DadsDivorce.com strive to keep our information up-to-date; however state laws are not static and subject to change without notice.