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Washington D.C. Child Custody
Child Custody in Washington D.C.

The District of Columbia favors a joint custody agreement for children. Parents must understand joint custody laws in order to ensure that children are properly cared for after the divorce is final.

In Washington D.C., the courts consider the best interest of the child as the primary factor in awarding custody. Based on District of Columbia Code, Title 16, Chapter 9, Section 16-914, the court considers:

  • the wishes of the child, where practicable;
  • the wishes of the parents regarding custody;
  • the relationship of the child with each parent, his or her siblings, and any other person who may affect the child's best interest;
  • the child's adjustment to home, school, and community, as well as the possible disruption of the child's social and school life;
  • the physical and mental capability of each parent;
  • the willingness of the parents to share custody, communicate, and reach shared decisions;
  • each parent's prior involvement in the child's life;
  • the demands of parental employment and the parents ability to support a joint custody arrangement;
  • the age and number of children; and.
  • the sincerity of each parent's request, and the benefits to the parent.

Equal Rights

Joint custody laws state that both parents have equal rights to a minor child. This means both parents decide schooling, religion, and medical care. In a joint custody agreement, no parent makes a decision about the child without consulting the other parent. However, if one parent abandons the child, full custody of the child is granted to the other parent.

Parental Agreement

In some cases, the parents of the child must draft a written parental agreement and present it to the court. This ensures that each parent adheres to the terms in the agreement, as the document is legally binding. The agreement is sometimes given to parents who want to maintain joint custody but who need legal assistance to guarantee that the child is cared for properly. Both parents, as well as the judge, must sign the agreement. The agreement details the visitation schedule for the child (for example, the non-custodial parent may spend time with the child on alternating weekends, or the child may live with each parent on alternating weeks. In some cases, the judge may order the parents to take parenting classes.

Joint Custody Preference

The District of Columbia law expresses a preference for parents to share as equally as practically possible in the custody of a child in a divorce case.

In Washington D.C., both parents must define the terms of joint custody that will benefit the child. For example, the parent who lives in the marital home may get physical custody of the child, so that the child will not have to change schools as a result of the divorce. However, the child may live with the other parent during the summer. Joint custody does not mean that each parent must constantly consult the other concerning the day-to-day decisions about the child.

Parental Conduct

In addition to finding a parent unfit because of substance abuse, or abuse or neglect towards a child, the courts also consider the conduct of both parents during the course of the marriage and the impact of parental behavior on the child. Unless there is evidence of an intrafamily offense, abuse, neglect, or parental kidnapping, the court favors joint custody.

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