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Washington D.C. Legal Separation
Legal Separation in Washington D.C.

In the District of Columbia, a party is not required to get a legal separation before filing for divorce. Some people choose legal separation instead of a divorce for personal reasons including religious beliefs.

The difference between a legal separation and a divorce is that the parties are still married when separation proceedings are over. On the other hand, when a divorce is over, the spouses are no longer married; both may remarry. However, legal separations and divorces both resolve important legal questions, including alimony, the division of assets and liabilities in the settlement, the disposition of the marital home, child custody and visitation and child support.

The District of Columbia is a no-fault jurisdiction, which means that neither spouse can block the other from obtaining a divorce. Divorces are either uncontested or contested.

Someone legally separated in the District of Columbia can pursue a divorce later. When the court grants a legal separation, that order may be expanded to an absolute divorce if one of the spouses requests it and also proves that no reconciliation has occurred or is probable and that the spouses have continued to live apart for another year after the court issued the decree of separation. On the other hand, if legally separated spouses ever reconcile, D.C. law provides that they can jointly apply to the court to have the decree removed and resume their marriage.

Separation Agreement

A separation agreement is a legal binding contract signed by spouses, which is intended to resolve property, debt and child related issues. This can be a very complex and detailed document depending upon the unique situation of the marriage. Many spouses consult an attorney to provide this or they decide to prepare their own.


The grounds are:

  • Both spouses agreed "mutually and voluntarily" to separate and live apart for at least six months before the date one spouse filed for divorce. In this regime, the spouses cannot "cohabitate" during that six months.
  • Regardless of whether the spouses agreed to it, the spouses wound up living "separate and apart," and without cohabitation, for at least one year before the date one spouse filed for divorce. Spouses who share a dwelling (a house, apartment, or other residence) can still be deemed to live "separate and apart," but they have to prove to the court that they have shared "neither bed nor board,” which means they had separate bedrooms and have not lived like a married couple.


Either spouse must live in the District of Columbia for six consecutive months.

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