District of Columbia Divorce Law


Divorce – State Law Summary – District of Columbia

Notes: This summary is not intended to be an all-inclusive summary of the laws of divorce in the District of Columbia, but does contain basic and other procedures.

Grounds for divorce
The District of Columbia permits divorces to be granted on two grounds.  First, a divorce may be granted to the parties if both parties to the marriage have mutually and voluntarily lived separate and apart without cohabitation for a period of six months prior to the filing of the petition for divorce. Second, a divorce may also be granted if both parties to the marriage have lived separate and apart without cohabitation for a period of one year prior to the filing of the petition for divorce. D.C.C. 16-904.

Residency Requirements
At least one of the parties to the action for divorce must have resided in the District of Columbia for at least six (6) months immediately prior to the filing of the complaint.  D.C.C. 16-902.

Name of court and title of action/parties
An action for divorce filed in the District of Columbia is filed in the Superior Court – Family Division. The title of the action initiating the divorce is a Complaint for Divorce, while the title of the action granting the divorce is referred to as the Final Decree of Divorce. The party who is filing the action for divorce is called the Plaintiff, while the other spouse is referred to as the Defendant. D.C.C.R., Vol. 2, App. I.

Legal Separation
The District of Columbia permits a judgment of legal separation to be granted for the following grounds:
1.  Both parties to the marriage have mutually and voluntarily lived separate and apart without cohabitation.
2.  Both parties to the marriage have lived separate and apart without cohabitation for a period of one year prior to the filing of the action.
3.  Either party has committed adultery.
4.  Either party has engaged in conduct that would constitute cruelty toward the other. D.C.C. 16-904.

Alimony
When a divorce is granted to the parties, the court may award alimony to either spouse in an amount sufficient to support that spouse. D.C.C. 16-911-913.

Distribution of Property
The District of Columbia is an equitable distribution jurisdiction. In the absence of a valid property settlement agreement, upon entry of the final decree of divorce the court shall set aside to each spouse that party’s separate property and distribute all other property between the parties in a manner that the court determines is equitable, just and reasonable after considering the following factors:
1.  The duration of the marriage.
2.  Any prior marriage of either party.
3.  The age, health, occupation, amount and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, assets, debts, and the needs of each of the parties.
4.  Provisions for the custody of minor children.
5.  Whether the distribution is in lieu of, or in addition to, maintenance.
6.  The opportunity of each party for future acquisition of assets and income.
7.  Each party’s contribution to the acquisition, preservation, appreciation, dissipation or depreciation of the assets subject to distribution.
8.  Any other factor the court deems relevant.  D.C.C. 16-910.

Child custody
The court shall determine custody of minor children of the marriage based upon the best interests of the child.  To determine the best interests of the child, the court shall consider the following factors:
1.  The wishes of the child as to his custodian.
2.  The wishes of the child’s parents as to the child’s custody and the sincerity of each parent’s request.
3.  The interaction and interrelationship of the child with parents, siblings and any other person.
4.  The child’s adjustment to his home, school and community, and the potential disruption of the child’s social and school life.
5.  The mental and physical health of all parties.
6.  The capacity of the parents to communicate and reach shared decisions regarding the child’s welfare.
7.  The willingness of the parents to share custody.
8.  The prior involvement of each parent in the child’s life.
9.  The geographic proximity of the parental homes as it relates to the child’s residential schedule.
10.  The demands of parental employment.
11.  The age and number of children.
12.  Any other factor the court deems reasonable.
13.  There is a rebuttable presumption that joint custody is in the best interest of the child.

In any custody proceeding, the court may order each parent to submit a parenting plan detailing each parent’s proposals regarding issues such as the child’s residence, support, visitation, education and medical and dental care, among others.  D.C.C. 16-911, 16-914.

Mediation
If child custody is an issue in the action for divorce, the court may require the parties to attend parenting classes.  D.C.C. 16-911.

Child support
The District of Columbia has established child support guidelines which establish a presumptively correct amount of child support to be paid.  The guidelines take into consideration the existence of any prior order of child support a party may be paying and also take into consideration the difference in cost to raise children of different ages.  Any deviation from the guidelines must be in writing with a statement of the factors justifying the deviation.

If the parties present the court with an agreement containing provisions for child support, that agreement shall be examined and compared to the child support guidelines to determine if that agreement is fair and just.  The court shall examine each party to ensure that the person is aware of the presumptively correct amount contained in the guidelines and that consent for the deviation from the guidelines was informed.  D.C.C. 16-911, D.C.C. 16-916.

Name change
Upon request of the party who assumed a new name upon marriage, the court shall permit that party to resume use of the former or maiden name.  D.C.C. 16-915.