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Know the Laws: District of Columbia

UPDATED August 31, 2015

State Custody Information

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This page includes information about custody that is specific to this state.  There is also a page for general information that you may find helpful.

back to topHow will a judge make a decision about custody?

Custody is determined according to what the judge considers to be in the child’s best interest. The judge will consider all relevant factors, including, but not limited to:

  • the child’s preference for who s/he wants to live with;
  • the wishes of the child's parent(s);
  • the relationship the child has with his/her parents, siblings or any other persons involved;
  • the child's adjustment to his/her home, school, and community life;
  • the mental and physical health of all individuals involved;
  • any evidence of domestic or family violence;
  • the ability of the parents to communicate and reach shared decisions affecting the child;
  • the willingness of the parents to share custody;
  • the prior involvement of each parent in the child's life;
  • the potential disruption of the child's social and school life;
  • how close the parents live from one another (for example, this would come into play if the judge were deciding whether having the kids go back and forth between the two homes would be reasonable);
  • the demands of parental employment;
  • the age and number of children;
  • the sincerity of each parent's request;
  • the parent's ability to financially support a joint custody arrangement;
  • the impact on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or Program on Work, Employment, and Responsibilities, and medical assistance; and
  • the benefit to the parents.*

The court may also order each parent to submit a detailed parenting plan, outlining each parent’s position for a proposed custody/visitation schedule, and allocation (division) of parental rights and responsibilities that would be in the best interest of the child.** The judge will consider these parenting plans when evaluating the factors listed above and when making the custody decision.***

* D.C. Code § 16-914(a)(3)
** D.C. Code § 16-914(a-3)(2)(c)
*** D.C. Code § 16-914 (a-3)(d)(1)

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back to topCan a parent who committed violence get custody or visitation?

Possibly, yes. The judge is supposed to take into account a parent’s history of domestic violence when making custody or visitation decision but many other factors will also be considered and the parent may still receive custody or visitation rights. If the judge believes that the parent committed family violence and the judge still gives that parent custody or visitation rights, the judge has to make a written statement outlining what factors support his/her decision.

The judge can give the abusive parent visitation but only if the judge finds that the child and custodial parent can be protected from potential harm from the abusive parent.  It is up to the parent who committed the violence to prove that visitation will not endanger the child or harm the child’s emotional development.*  However, if the child was conceived as a result of a sexual assault against you by the abuser and he was convicted of this crime in criminal court, the law does not allow him to get custody or visitation.  For more information, see If my child was conceived from a sexual assault, can the biological father get custody or visitation?

It is recommended that you seek legal advice from a lawyer to assist you in a custody case involving domestic violence issues.  For information on how to find a lawyer see our DC Finding a Lawyer page.

* D.C. Code § 16-914(a-1)

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back to topIf my child was conceived from a sexual assault, can the biological father get custody or visitation?

If your child was conceived as the result first degree sexual abuse, second degree sexual abuse, or child sexual abuse against you, the biological father cannot be granted legal custody or physical custody of the child, or visitation with the child.  Note: the biological father must be convicted in criminal court of the crime in order for this law to apply.  However, the biological father can still be responsible to pay child support for the child even if he cannot see the child.*

* D.C. Code § 16-914(k)

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back to topShould I start a court case to ask for supervised visits?

If you are not comfortable with the abuser being alone with your child, you might be thinking about asking the judge to order that visits with your child be supervised. If you are already in court because the abuser filed for visitation or custody, you may not have much to lose by asking that the visits be supervised if you can present a valid reason for your request (although this may depend on your situation).

However, if there is no current court case, please get legal advice before you start a court case to ask for supervised visits. We strongly recommend that you talk to an attorney who specializes in custody matters to find out what you would have to prove to get the visits supervised and how long supervised visits would last, based on the facts of your case.

In the majority of cases, supervised visits are only a temporary measure.  Although the exact visitation order will vary by state, county, or judge, the judge might order a professional to observe the other parent on a certain amount of visits or the visits might be supervised by a relative for a certain amount of time -- and if there are no obvious problems, the visits may likely become unsupervised.  Oftentimes, at the end of a case, the other parent ends up with more frequent and/ or longer visits than s/he had before you went into court or even some form of custody.

In some cases, to protect your child from immediate danger by the abuser, starting a case to ask for custody and supervised visits is appropriate.  To find out what may be best in your situation, please go to DC Finding a Lawyer to seek out legal advice.

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back to topWhere can I find more information about custody in D.C.?

You can find more information about custody through the following links.  Please note, WomensLaw.org has no relationship with these organizations and does not endorse their services.  We provide these links for your information only.

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