District Of Columbia Divorce Law

District of Columbia Divorce Law and Resources


Divorce laws are written and enforced by the state or district in which you were married. This means your state and local family law court determines such things as divorce case filing and pleading procedures, spousal and child support payments, custodial rights of parents and the division of community property. Described information comes from government publications and resources. Make sure to consult a lawyer in your state for the most current law and procedures.



At least one party must be a resident of the District of Columbia for a minimum of 6 months before filing for a divorce. [Based on DC Code – Title 16 – Chapter 9 – Section 16-902]



The District of Columbia is an equitable distribution state, meaning the the court will distribute all property and debt acquired during the marriage in a just, equitable, and reasonable manner, considering the following factors:

The length of the marriage, the age, health, occupation, amount, and sources of income, vocational skills, employability, assets, debts, and needs of each of the parties, and the opportunity for future acquisition of assets and income the custody provisions of the minor children whether the property distribution is in lieu of or in addition to alimony; each party’s obligation from a prior marriage or for other children; the contribution of each party as a homemaker; any contribution made by one party to help educate or develop the career or employability of the other party, and any interruption of either party’s educational or personal career opportunities for the benefit of the other’s career or for the benefit of the parties’ marriage or children; each party’s contribution to the marital assets (and whether the assets or debts were incurred after separation); the tax consequences for each party subject to distribution; andthe circumstances that caused the breakdown of the marriage.

Sole and separate property acquired prior to the marriage, or acquired during the marriage by gift, bequest, devise, or descent, and any increase thereof, or property acquired in exchange therefor; shall be considered separate property and not subject to division. [Based on DC Code – Title 16 – Chapter 9 – Section 16-910]



Either party may be awarded alimony, and may be indefinite or term-limited. In determining whether spousal support will be awarded, and the amount of alimony that will the paid, the court shall consider the length of the marriage, the age, health and mental conditions of each party, the standard of living established during the marriage, occupation, amount and sources of income, the property awarded in the divorce settlement, vocational skills, employability, length of time necessary to gain sufficient education or training for suitable employment, estate, liabilities, and needs of each of the parties; the opportunity of each for future acquisition of capital assets and income; the fault of either party; the right of a party to receive retirement benefits; any previous award of child support in this case; and the federal tax consequences of the order. [Based on District of Columbia Code – Title 16 – Chapter 9 – Section 19-913]



The best interest of the child will be the primary consideration in awarding custody. The court favors joint custody unless there is evidence of an intra-family offence, abuse, neglect, parental kidnapping. The following factors are used in determining the best interest of the child:

  1. The wishes of the child, where practicable;
  2. the wishes of the parents regarding custody;
  3. the relationship of the child with each parents, his or her siblings, and any other person who may affect the child’s best interest;
  4. the child’s adjustment to home, school, and community, as well as the possible disruption of the child’s social and school life;
  5. the physical and mental capability of each parent;
  6. the willingness of the parents to share custody, communicate, and reach shared decisions;
  7. each parent’s prior involvement in the child’s life;
  8. the demands of parental employment and the parents ability to support a joint custody arrangement;
  9. the age and number of children;
  10. the sincerity of each parent’s request, and the benefits to the parent. [Based on District of Columbia Code – Title 16 – Chapter 9 – Section 16-914]



Both parents are responsible for the support of their children, and the payment of child support is gender-neutral. Child support is determined by the income-shares model, meaning that the level of child support will amount to a set percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income, and may be adjusted according to the age of the children. Prior child support orders that are being paid shall be deducted from a parent’s income before the child support obligation is computed.

The support guidelines shall be applied unless the resulting support would unjust or inappropriate. In such instances, factors that may be considered to deviate from the guidelines are:

* the needs of the child are exceptional;

* the non-custodial parents income is substantially less than that of the custodial parent;

* the property settlement provides resources for the support of the child in an amount at least equivalent to the guideline amount;

* the non-custodial parent needs a temporary reduction in the level of support (but not for more than 12 months) to help pay off debt or rearrange financial obligations;

* the cost of medical coverage paid for by the custodial parent is significant in comparison to the level of child support ordered;

* the custodial parent is receiving child support from more than one non-custodial parent to the extent that the standard of living is higher than that of the non-custodial parent; or

* any other factors that would make the standard child support determination unfair.

In cases of shared custody, where the child spends at least 40% with each parent, the guidelines are not presumptive, but rather advisory, and may be adjusted at the discretion of the court using the modified guidelines set for such circumstances. Child support orders shall include provisions for wage withholding, and health coverage. [Based on DC Code – Title 16 – Chapter 9 – Sections 16-916.01]



Premarital agreements must be in writing, and signed by both parties. They may address such issues as the rights and obligations of each party concerning any property acquired or sold, the modification or elimination of alimony, and any other matter not in violation of public policy or law. Child support may not be adversely affected by a premarital agreement. A premarital agreement is not enforceable if it can be proven that the agreement was signed under duress, or if the party signing the agreement was not made aware of the property or financial obligations of the other party. [Based on DC Code – Title 16 – Chapter 9 – Sections 46-502 through 508]



A divorce may be granted if the parties have mutually lived separate and apart for 6 months, or have lived separate and apart without cohabitation for one year prior to filing for a divorce. Couples who have pursued separate lives, sharing neither bed nor food, can be deemed living separate and apart, even if they reside in the same house. [Based on DC Code – Title 16 – Chapter 9 – Section 16-904]



A legal separation may be granted if the parties have lived apart, sharing neither bed nor board. A legal separation may be converted to an absolute divorce. [Based on DC Code – Title 16 – Chapter 9 – Sections 16-904, and 16-905]



Federal Options Enforcement (CSE) Program is a federal/state/local effort to locate parents, their employers, and/or their assets; establish paternity if necessary; and establish and enforce child support orders. The federal role is to provide funding, issue policies, ensure that federal requirements are met, and interact with other federal agencies that help support the CSE program.


How and where do I apply?


In most states, CSE offices are listed under the human services agency in the local government section of the telephone directory. If there is not a separate listing, the human services agency information operator should be able to give you the number. State CSE agencies are listed at the end of this brochure; they also can provide telephone numbers for local offices.


Call your Child Support Enforcement office to learn how to apply for enforcement services and what documents (birth certificates, financial statements, etc.) you should provide.


What are the steps to collecting support?


The first step, if a child was born out of wedlock, is to establish paternity – or make a legal determination of who fathered the child. Many men will voluntarily acknowledge paternity. Either parent can request a blood test in contested paternity cases. Your caseworker will help you to establish paternity for your child.


Establishing the obligation is the next step. The fair amount of child support that the non-custodial parent should pay is determined according to state guidelines. Your CSE office will be able to tell you how support award amounts are set in your state. Your CSE office can also request medical support for your child.


The last step is enforcement of the child support order. The CSE office can help with collecting the money due no matter where the non-custodial parent lives.


At any of these steps, the CSE office may need to know where the non-custodial parent is living or where he/she is working. When a parent has disappeared, it is usually possible for the CSE office to find him/her with the help of state agencies, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, or the Federal Parent Locator Service. Your caseworker can tell you what information is needed to find an absent parent or his/her employer.


The most successful way to collect child support is by direct withholding from the obligated parent’s paycheck. Most child support orders require the employer to withhold the money that is ordered for child support and send it to the CSE office. Y

Your Child Support Enforcement office can tell you about this procedure.

Federal and State Income Tax refunds may be withheld to collect unpaid child support. States also have laws, which allow them to use: liens on real and personal property; orders to withhold and deliver property; or seizure and sale of property with the proceeds applied to the support debt. Many states routinely report child support debts to credit bureaus and smart parents are bringing their payments current so that their credit won’t be affected.

For More Information write for the Handbook on Child Support Enforcement by contacting:

ACF OCSE National Reference Center

370 L’Enfant Promenade, S.W.

4th Floor Washington, DC 20447

(202) 401-9383



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