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Know the Laws: District of Columbia

UPDATED June 7, 2016

Basic information about divorce in Washington, D.C.

back to topWhat are the residency requirements to file for divorce in D.C.?

To file for divorce (or legal separation) in D.C., you or your spouse must have been a resident of D.C. for at least 6 months before the filing for the divorce.*

A member of the armed forces will be considered a resident of D.C. if s/he resides in D.C. continuously for 6 months during his/her military service.**

* D.C. Code § 16-902(a)
** D.C. Code § 16-902(e)

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back to topWhat are the grounds for divorce in D.C.?

Grounds are legally acceptable reasons for a divorce.  The judge can grant you a divorce or legal separation in D.C. if:

  1. You and your spouse have  lived separate and apart for 6 months and this was based on a mutual agreement between the two of you; or
  2. You and your spouse have lived separate and apart for 1 year but there wasn’t a mutual agreement to live separately (for example, you left your spouse against his/her wishes or despite the fact that s/he wanted to reconcile during this period).*

The judge can find that you and your spouse have lived “separate and apart” even if you live in the same home so long as you and your spouse are pursuing separate lives and have not shared “bed nor board.”**  In other words, the court will look to see that you have separate bedrooms, do not go out together as a couple, share meals, pay bills jointly, or do other things that a married couple would do.***

* See D.C. Code § 16-904(a),(b)
** D.C. Code § 16-904(c)(1)
*** See the DC Bar Pro Bono Program information sheet

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back to topCan I get alimony?

Alimony is financial support paid by one spouse to another and can be awarded when a divorce, legal separation, or termination of a domestic partnership is granted.*  If you request alimony and the judge decides to award it in your case, the order can be for either an indefinite period of time, or s/he can order a time-limited award.**

If the judge decides to grant you alimony, the judge will consider certain factors to determine a fair amount to award.  These factors include, but are not limited to:

  • your ability to support yourself;
  • how long it will take you to gain enough education or training so you can find suitable employment;
  • the standard of living that was established during the marriage/domestic partnership, while also taking into consideration that there will now be two households to financially support;
  • the length of the marriage/domestic partnership;
  • the circumstances that led to the end of the marriage/domestic partnership;
  • the age of you and your spouse;
  • the physical and mental health of you and your spouse;
  • the ability of your spouse to support himself/herself while also supporting you;
  • the financial needs and resources of you and your spouse, such as:
    • income (including income from assets, property from the marriage/domestic partnership and individual property);
    • potential income from assets;
    • any previous award of child support in your case;
    • financial obligations of each spouse;
    • the right of you or your spouse to receive retirement benefits; and
    • the taxability of income.***

* D.C. Code § 16-913(a)
** D.C. Code § 16-913(b)
*** D.C. Code § 16-913(d)

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back to topWhat are the basic steps for filing for divorce?

While divorce laws vary by state, here are the basic steps that a person may have to follow to obtain a divorce:

  • First, you or your spouse must meet the residency requirements of the state you want to file in.
  • Second, you must have “grounds” (a legally acceptable reason) to end your marriage.
  • Third, you must file the appropriate divorce papers and have copies sent to your spouse - for the exact rules for serving the papers, contact your local courthouse or an attorney.
  • Fourth, if your spouse disagrees with anything in the divorce papers, then s/he will have the opportunity to file papers telling her/his side.  In his/her response, the other party may express his/her opinion challenging the divorce, asking that it be granted under different grounds or letting the judge know that s/he agrees to the divorce.  If your spouse contests the divorce, then you may have a series of court appearances to sort the issues out.  Also, if a certain period of time passes and your spouse does not sign the papers or file any papers of his/her own, you may be able to proceed with the divorce as an uncontested divorce anyway.  (Speak to a lawyer in your state about how long you have to wait to see if your spouse answers before you can continue with the divorce.)
  • Fifth, if there are property, assets, a pension, debts, or anything else that you need divided, or if you need financial support from your spouse, then these issues may have to be dealt with during the divorce or else you may lose your chance to deal with these issues.  The issues may be worked out during settlement negotiations and incorporated into the divorce decree or in a series of court hearings during the divorce.  Custody and child support may also be decided as part of your divorce.

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back to topWhere do I find the court forms that I need?

The District of Columbia Bar links to court forms for those seeking divorce, separation, or annulment. (Note: WomensLaw.org is not related to this organization and cannot vouch for the accuracy of its site.)  

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