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Washington D.C. Divorce Laws

The state of Washington D.C. has unique divorce laws for people who wish to terminate their marriage.

We are providing the following Washington DC divorce laws to you as an easy reference guide. Use the following information before filing for divorce in DC.

Residency Requirements: When filing for divorce in DC, you or your spouse must meet the strict residency requirements. These requirements permit the court to have jurisdiction of your case, resulting in allowing you to use their judicial system. These requirements are only a concern for spouses who have recently relocated or plan to relocate in the near future. They are as follows:

Either spouse must be a resident for at least 6 months prior to filing for a divorce in DC. All active military members that are stationed in Washington D.C. are considered a residents as long as they have been stationed for at least 6 months. (District of Columbia Code - Title 16 - Chapter 9 - Sections: 902)

No-Fault Grounds: Most uncontested divorce cases are filed according to a "no-fault" ground. We are using the term "no-fault" in a generic fashion by labeling all grounds that do not actually declare a "fault" as "no-fault". In the state of District of Columbia the "no-fault" grounds are as follows:

(1) Mutual voluntary separation without cohabitation for 6 months; (2) living separate and apart without cohabitation for 1 year. "Living separate and apart" may be accomplished under the same roof, if the spouses do not share bed or food. (District of Columbia Code - Title 16 - Chapter 9 - Sections: 904, 905, 906)

Filing Party Name: The Plaintiff. This is the spouse who is recognized as the initiator of the divorce and is the one who actually files the Complaint for Divorce with the county court.

Non-Filing Party Name: The Defendant. This spouse plays a lesser role in an uncontested divorce versus a contested divorce. He or she will be required to sign and/or respond in a timely fashion to the documents filed by his or her spouse.

Family Law or Domestic Relations Court: In the Superior Court of the District of Columbia-Family Division. All divorce cases in the state of District of Columbia are facilitated through this court for that particular county.

Clerk's Name: All correspondence with a District of Columbia clerk of the court should formally address him or her as follows: County Clerk's Office of the Family Court.

Property and Debt Division: District of Columbia is considered an "equitable distribution" state. If you and your spouse are unable to come to an agreement on how the marital property will be divided, the court shall use a three step process. First, it will determine what property is marital. Second, it will put a value on the marital property. Third, it will divide the marital property in an equitable fashion, which is not necessarily equal, but rather what is considered to be fair.

If the parties have not stipulated to a property settlement, the court will distinguish what property is separate and what is marital. Separate property includes, but is not limited to, any property acquired prior to the marriage, gifts, and inheritances. Any property other than separate property will be divided equitably by the court after considering the following factors: (a) the contribution of each spouse to the acquisition of the marital property, including the contribution of each spouse as homemaker; (b) the length of the marriage; (c) the occupations of each spouse; (d) the vocational skills of the spouses; (e) the employability of the spouses; (f) the estate, liabilities, and needs of each spouse and the opportunity of each for further acquisition of capital assets and income; (g) the separate property and debts of the spouses; (h) any prior marriages; (i) whether the property award is instead of or in addition to alimony; (j) any custodial provisions for the children; (k) the age and health of the spouses; and (l) the amount and sources of income of the spouses. (District of Columbia Code - Title 16 - Chapter 9 - Sections: 910)

Changing Name: Upon filing for a divorce in DC, either spouse may restore their name to their former or maiden name. (District of Columbia Code - Title 16 - Chapter 9 - Sections: 915)

Spousal Support, Maintenance, or Alimony: Determining the amount of spousal support, if any, is not as objective as determining child support. Spousal support, whether permanent or temporary, is typically decided on a case-by-case basis, because it is very likely that unique circumstances and factors regarding the marriage and the property award will play a significant role in allowing the court to arrive at the appropriate amount.

The court may, at its discretion, may order temporary or permanent alimony during a divorce proceeding if it feels it is appropriate. In making such an award, the court will consider a number of economic factors, but marital fault is not a consideration. (District of Columbia Code - Title 16 - Chapter 9 - Sections: 911, 912)

Custody and Visitation: Shared or joint child custody has become more and more popular with the District of Columbia courts. If you and your spouse request to have joint or shared "legal" custody, it will almost always be granted. As for joint or shared "physical" custody, the court will examine this a bit more closely to determine if it is a realistic choice that would result in an arrangement that is best for the children.

If the parents are in dispute regarding the custody of the children, the court will make the custody award with the best interest of the children at the forefront of the decision. Each parent is given equal consideration by considering the following factors: (1) the child's wishes, if the child is of sufficient age and capacity; (2) the wishes of the parents; (3) the child's adjustment to his or her home, school, and community; (4) the mental and physical health of all individuals involved; (5) the relationship of the child with parents, siblings, and other significant family members; (6) the willingness of the parents to share custody; (7) the prior involvement of the parent in the child's life; (8) the geographical proximity of the parents; (9) the sincerity of the parent's request; (10) the age and number of children; (11) the demands of parental employment; (12) the impact on any welfare benefits; (13) any evidence of spousal or child abuse; (14) the capacity of the parents to communicate and reach shared decisions affecting the child's welfare; (15) the potential disruption of the child's social and school life; and (16) the parent's ability to financially support a joint custody arrangement. There is a rebuttable presumption that joint interest is in the best interests of the child unless child abuse, neglect, parental kidnapping or other intrafamily violence has occurred. The court may order the parents to submit a written parenting plan for custody. (District of Columbia Code - Title 16 - Chapter 9 - Sections: 911, 914)

Determining Child Support: The basis for determining a monthly support amount is best achieved by referring to the District of Columbia child support worksheet. The worksheet utilizes the child support guidelines that are defined by state law. The court will use this same worksheet as a building block for determining the support obligation, that is if you and your spouse are unable to come to an agreement on this issue.

The court will determine the support amount according to the current child support guidelines that are in place. If the court finds that the calculated amount is not appropriate form a specific case, it shall deviate from that amount by considering the following deviation factors: (1) the child's needs are exceptional; (2) the non-custodial parent's income is substantially less than the custodial parent's income; (3) a property settlement between the parents provides resources for the child above the minimum support requirements; (4) the non-custodial parent provides support for other dependents and the guideline amounts would cause hardship; (5) the non-custodial parent needs a temporary reduction [of no longer than 12 months] in support payments to repay a substantial debt; (6) the custodial parent provides medical insurance coverage; (7) the custodial parent receives child support payments for other children and the custodial parent's household income is substantially greater than that of the non-custodial parent; and (8) any other extraordinary factors. Child support may be ordered to be paid through the Clerk of the Superior Court. (District of Columbia Code - Title 16 - Chapter 9 - Sections: 911, 916)

Copyright Notice: These District of Columbia divorce laws above are copyrighted by 3 Step Solutions, LLC. This abbreviated and revised version of the state laws has been compiled from applicable state laws and unauthorized reproduction in any fashion is prohibited. Violation of this copyright notice may result in immediate legal action.

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