District of Columbia Divorce FAQ

Divorce – State FAQ – District of Columbia

Residency requirements, venue and procedures

Q: How long must I have lived in the District of Columbia prior to filing for divorce in a D.C. court?

A: 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.

Q: What are the terms used to identify the parties in a divorce proceeding?

A: The party filing the action is the Plaintiff, while the other party to the action is the Defendant.

Q: What is “venue,” and what is the proper venue for a divorce case?

A: “Venue” refers to which type of court and in what locality the case is filed. An action for divorce filed in the District of Columbia is filed in the Superior Court – Family Division.

Q: What is the title of the document initiating the action for divorce?The order granting the divorce?

A: The title of the document initiating the divorce is a Complaint for Divorce, while the title of the order granting the divorce is referred to as the Final Decree of Divorce.

Grounds for divorce

Q: What is meant by “grounds for divorce”?

A: A “ground” for divorce is a “reason” for divorce. A set of judicially recognized reasons for divorce exist in Delaware. You must use one or more of these reasons to justify your divorce.

Q: What are the recognized grounds for divorce in Delaware?

A: 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.

Q: What is the difference between “fault” and “no-fault” grounds for divorce, and how does this relate to “contested” and “uncontested” divorces?

A: “No-fault” means that the fault of one or both of the parties in destroying the marriage is not an issue in the divorce. Spouses obtaining a no-fault divorce usually agree on all terms of the divorce (property division, child custody, etc.). This is known as an uncontested divorce. However, if the parties cannot agree on terms, the divorce is a “contested divorce.” It is possible to agree to “no-fault” grounds, but still end up in a contested divorce due to disagreement about terms.

Spousal support/alimony

Q: What does the term “spousal support” (or, “alimony”) mean?

A: “Spousal support” (sometimes called “alimony”) is money paid by one spouse to the other due to the payee spouse’s loss of the benefit of the payor spouse’s income due to the divorce.

Q: Is spousal support available while the divorce is pending in court, or only after the divorce has become final?

A: The court may order that one spouse support the other during the pendancy of the divorce action and/or after the divorce has become final.  Support awarded pending the final decree of divorce is not to extend beyond the period of time necessary for the prosecution of the divorce action.

Q: What factors will the court consider when determining how much alimony to award to a party?

A: The court may award alimony to either spouse that is reasonable under the circumstances. The court has wide discretion in this area.

Property Division

Q: On what basis does the court decide how marital property is divided?

A: D.C. uses so-called “equitable distribution.” This means that the division of property and debts between the divorcing parties should be fair and equitable, but not necessarily equal. While the trial court’s discretion will not be disturbed on appeal without a showing of clear abuse, the court will consider the factors enumerated in the Divorce Information Section of the District of Columbia Divorce Main Page.

Q: Is the “separate property” of one spouse subject to being divided up?

A: The question here is whether property “belonging to” one of the parties should be included in the marital estate for purposes of an equitable division. Generally, separate property acquired before the marriage or by gift or inheritance during the marriage may be excluded from the marital estate if neither the property nor its income has been used for the common benefit of the parties during their marriage.

Q: What if the parties occasionally use an item of separate property (for example, silver table utensils inherited by the wife) for the benefit of both parties?

A: The property may be subject to division. Where the parties regularly use property acquired by one party before marriage for the common benefit of the parties, it is more likely to be available for consideration in dividing property. The frequency of use may be considered by the court in making the decision.

Child custody and visitation

Q: What is child custody and visitation?

A: “Child custody” refers to which parent will have legal custody of the child(ren), i.e. with whom the child(ren) will live. “Visitation” is the topic of the non custodial parent’s ability to visit/spend time with the child(ren).

Q: If the parents cannot agree on child custody and visitation issues, on what basis will the court decide?

A: The court may award custody to either parent, regardless of sex, subject to the best interests of the child.

Q: What factors will the court consider in deciding what parent gets custody of the child(ren)?

A: 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 factors listed in the Divorce Information Section of the District of Columbia Divorce Main Page.

Child support

Q: What is “child support”?

A: Child support is money paid by the non custodial parent to the custodial parent in order to meet the needs of the child(ren).

Q: To what should the parties look for guidance regarding amount of child support to be paid? What standard will the court use if the parties cannot agree?

A: 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.


Inside District of Columbia Divorce FAQ