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District of Columbia Divorce Laws
Residency and Filing Requirements:In order to file for a divorce in Washington D.C., residency requirements must be met for the court to accept the case. If the court discovers it does not have jurisdictional rights to hear the case it will not be accepted or it will eventually be dismissed. The requirements are as follows:
Either spouse must be a resident for at least 6 months prior to filing for a divorce. 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)
Grounds for Filing:The Complaint for Divorce must declare the appropriate Washington D.C. grounds upon which the divorce is being sought. The appropriate lawful ground will be that which the parties agree upon and can substantiate, or that which the filing spouse desires to prove to the court. The divorce grounds are as follows:
A divorce will be granted by the court on the following grounds:
(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.
(1) Mutual voluntary separation without cohabitation for 6 months and (2) living separate and apart without cohabitation for 1 year are the only grounds for divorce in Washington D.C. (District of Columbia Code - Title 16 - Chapter 9 - Sections: 904, 905, 906)
Filing Spouse Title:Plaintiff. The Plaintiff is the spouse who initiates the filing procedure with the family law or domestic relations court.
Non-Filing Spouse Title:Defendant. The Defendant is the spouse who does not file the initial divorce papers, but rather receives them by service.
Court Name:In the Superior Court of the District of Columbia-Family Division. This is the Washington D.C. court where the divorce will be filed. The court will assign a case number and have jurisdictional rights to facilitate and grant the orders concerning, but not limited to: property and debt division, support, custody, and visitation. The name of the court is clearly represented at the top of all documents that are filed.
Primary Documents:Complaint for Divorce and Final Decree of Divorce. These are the essential documents needed to start and finalize a divorce according to Washington D.C. law. There are anywhere from ten to twenty other documents that may be required throughout the filing process. A few other documents that are typically filed during the process are: Affidavit of Corroborating Witness, Marital Settlement Agreement, Financial Affidavit, and Affidavit Regarding the Children.
Court Clerk's Title:County Clerk's Office of the Family Court. The clerk or the clerk's assistants will be the people managing your paperwork with the court. The clerk's office will keep the parties and the lawyers informed throughout the process in regards to additional paperwork that is needed, further requirements, and hearing dates and times.
Property Distribution:Since Washington D.C. is an "equitable distribution" state, the marital property shall be divided in an equitable fashion. Equitable does not mean equal, but rather what is fair. The court will encourage the parties to reach a settlement on property and debt issues otherwise the court will declare the property award.
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: (1) the contribution of each spouse to the acquisition of the marital property, including the contribution of each spouse as homemaker; (2) the duration of the marriage; (3) the spouses occupations; (4) the vocational skills of the spouses; (5) the employability of the spouses; (6) the estate, liabilities, and needs of each spouse and the opportunity of each for further acquisition of capital assets and income; (7) the separate property and debts of the spouses; (8) any prior marriage of each spouse; (9) whether the property award is instead of or in addition to alimony; (10) any custodial provisions for the children; (11) the age and health of the spouses; and (12) the amount and sources of income of the spouses. (District of Columbia Code - Title 16 - Chapter 9 - Sections: 910)
Restoration or Name Change:Upon filing for a divorce, either spouse may restore their name to their former or maiden name. (District of Columbia Code - Title 16 - Chapter 9 - Sections: 915)
Spousal Support:Not all cases involve support from one spouse to the other. The obligation of one spouse to support the other financially for a temporary or permanent basis is decided on a case-by-case basis as agreed to by the parties or at the court's discretion.
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)
Counseling or Mediation Requirements:If the divorce involves minor children, the court may order that one parent or both parents attend a short parenting education class prior to the divorce being finalized. (District of Columbia Code - Title 16 - Chapter 9 - Sections: 911)
Child Custody:When minor children are involved in a divorce, the Washington D.C. courts will do everything possible to help lessen the emotional trauma the children may be experiencing. If the parents cannot come to an agreement regarding the issues involving the children, the court will establish the custody order at its discretion.
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: (a) the child's wishes, if the child is of sufficient age and capacity; (b) the wishes of the parents; (c) the child's adjustment to his or her home, school, and community; (d) the mental and physical health of all individuals involved; (e) the relationship of the child with parents, siblings, and other significant family members; (f) the willingness of the parents to share custody; (g) the prior involvement of the parent in the child's life; (h) the geographical proximity of the parents; (9) the sincerity of the parent's request; (i) the age and number of children; (j) the demands of parental employment; (k) the impact on any welfare benefits; (l) any evidence of spousal or child abuse; (m) the capacity of the parents to communicate and reach shared decisions affecting the child's welfare; (n) the potential disruption of the child's social and school life; and (o) the parent's abililty 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)
Child Support:Washington D.C. child support guidelines uses the Percentage of Income Formula which calculates the support obligation as a percentage of the income of the non-custodial parent who is obligated to support the child. This method simply applies a percentage to the income of the parent according to the number of children requiring support.
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: (a) the child's needs are exceptional; (b) the non-custodial parent's income is substantially less than the custodial parent's income; (c) a property settlement between the parents provides resources for the child above the minimum support requirements; (d) the non-custodial parent provides support for other dependents and the guideline amounts would cause hardship; (e) the non-custodial parent needs a temporary reduction [of no longer than 12 months] in support payments to repay a substantial debt; (f) the custodial parent provides medical insurance coverage; (g) 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 (h) 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: The above synopsis of Washington D.C. divorce laws is original material which is owned and copyrighted by Divorce Source, Inc. This material has been adpated from applicable state laws and unauthorized reproduction is prohibited. Violation of this notice will result in immediate legal action.
Sole or joint child custody may be granted based on the best interest of the child standard. The Washington D.C. courts will do everything in their power to help make the divorce easier on the children.
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