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Divorce, Separation and Annulment in the District of Columbia

There are only two grounds for divorce in the District of Columbia. Both are so-called no-fault grounds-that is, a party does not have to prove that his spouse did something wrong (for example, committed adultery) to get a divorce. The two grounds are voluntary separation for six months, or separation for a year. The difference between the two is that with the former, the couple must agree to separate-that is, the separation must be voluntary. With the second ground, the couple does not have to agree to separate. One person can unilaterally decide to separate from the other. With both grounds, the six month or the one year must have passed before a party can file for a divorce. Also, with both grounds, a "separation" does not have to mean that the couple no longer lives together. A couple can still live in the same home and yet be "separated" for the purposes of obtaining a divorce as long as they lead separate lives and do not share the same bed.

District of Columbia law also allows a couple to seek a court recognized separation, called a legal separation. A legal separation is usually sought by a couple when there are not yet grounds for a divorce, but the couple wants the Court to decide certain issues-such as child custody, child support, and property issues. There are four grounds for a legal separation: a voluntary separation (unlike with a divorce, there is no time requirement for the separation), separation for a year, adultery, and cruelty. Regarding the separation grounds for a legal separation, as with a divorce, a couple can still live together and yet be "separated" as long as they lead separate lives and do not share the same bed.

There are a number of grounds for an annulment in the District of Columbia. An annulment is where a court declares that a marriage does not exist. One ground is where someone marries someone who is already married. Another ground is when someone marries someone who is insane (however, there cannot be an annulment if the two people live together after the person discovers his or her partner’s insanity). Other grounds include where a marriage was obtained by fraud or force, where one of the people getting married is not yet 16, where one of the parties is matrimonially incapacitated without the knowledge of the other party, and where certain relatives get married.

If you are contemplating getting a divorce, legal separation, or annulment and you want to ensure that your rights are protected, you should consult with an attorney who can advise you as to the best way to proceed.

This article is general in nature and you should check with a lawyer in your community for specific legal advice once the facts of your specific situation are taken into account.

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In the District of Columbia, legal separation, divorce a mensa et thoro ("from bed and board"), may be granted on the grounds of 1) adultery, 2) cruelty, 3) voluntary separation and 4) living separate and apart without cohabitation.
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