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Washington D.C. Divorce Process
Filing the Paperwork with the Court
Divorces are filed in the Superior court-Family Division. The filing spouse is called the plaintiff; the other spouse is the defendant.
Serving the Documents
The complaint and summons must be served on the opposing spouse, which can be done by anyone over the age of 18 who is not the plaintiff. Service provides notice of the pending divorce action.
After filing the divorce papers, if the other spouse lives in Washington, he or she has 60 days to respond to the complaint. If the other spouse fails to respond, the court proceeds with the divorce so long as service of process is completed correctly. Whether or not the spouse responds, the plaintiff must appear before the court in a hearing scheduled by the clerk. At the end of the hearing, the court decides at some later time, normally 30 days, to grant a divorce and a settlement of marital issues.
The summons and complaint can be served in a number of ways.
Disclosing Financial Information
If the spouses agree to a property settlement, it must be submitted to the court. When spouses are unable to agree, the court divides the couple's marital property based on equitable distribution. This means the spouses are each entitled to maintain ownership of their separate property, which is generally anything they owned prior to the marriage and any inheritance received during the marriage. The remaining property - known as marital property - is divided fairly, but not necessarily equally, meaning that the courts may award more assets to one party based on such factors as income disparity, education, employability, conduct of the parties, child custody and individual contributions to the marital property, among others.
Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce
A divorce is uncontested if both spouses agree to the divorce and are in complete agreement about dividing the marital property (which includes assets and debts), the custody and support for any children, and whether one spouse pays alimony to the other. A divorce is contested when spouses cannot agree on the terms and conditions of one or more of these issues, even if both agree that they want a divorce.
An uncontested divorce is less costly, and because the parties establish the terms and conditions of the divorce agreement, marital dissolution is also granted more quickly.
If the action is contested, not only do the parties incur considerably more legal fees and other expenses, but also the court may have to resolve issues in a way a party does not like.
Finalizing the Divorce
After the hearing, the court grants the divorce and gives the parties a copy of the divorce order. The divorce is final 30 days after the docketing date, which could be a few days after the hearing. Either party may file an appeal within those 30 days and also ask the court to stay the divorce order. If the stay is granted, the order becomes final once the appeal is resolved. If the stay is denied, the order is still final after the 30 days. If both spouses agree not to appeal the judge's order, they file a Joint Waiver of Appeal, the 30-day waiting period is waived, and the order is final immediately.
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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