District of Columbia Child Custody Laws

Whether you’re thinking about separating or in the midst of divorce proceedings, one concern can rise above the rest. What happens to the children? The answer can often depend on where you live. Each state has its own laws governing child custody. The same is true in our nation’s capital. Here’s a quick summary of the law in D.C. when it comes to who gets child custody and how that determination is reached.

Child Custody Laws in D.C.

Courts hearing divorce proceedings will make determinations about child care and custody from an early point. Since legal separation is required before a divorce in D.C., parents generally live apart before a divorce is finalized. A court will consider custody before the divorce and enter an order. A permanent determination can be made once the divorce is finalized.

District of Columbia law gives a court making custody decisions considerable flexibility to reach a solution that is in the best interest of the child. What the child wants, what the parents want, the interests of other people closely involved in a child’s life, the child’s home, school, and community interests, and the ability of divorced parents to work together all enter into the picture.

Courts can award joint custody, sole legal custody, sole physical custody, joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or whatever other forms of custody determined to be in the child’s best interests. D.C. law includes a presumption that joint custody is in the best interests of the child, though this presumption can be challenged (rebutted) in custody proceedings. There are also some red flags that will weigh against custody. Domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, and parental kidnapping reverse the presumption and favor sole custody.

Code Sections § 16-911(a)(5); § 16-914.
Year Uniform Child Custody Act Adopted 1983.
Joint Custody an Option? Yes, § 16-911(a)(1)(A). There is a rebutable presumption that joint custody is in the best interests of a child, 16-914(a)(2).
Are Grandparent Visitation Rights Recognized? No.
Are a Child’s Own Wishes Considered? Yes.

Note: State family laws are constantly changing -- contact a District of Columbia family law attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Related Resources for Child Custody Laws

You can find an overview of child custody and more information about child custody here at FindLaw. For specific questions, we recommend speaking to a local child custody attorney for advice and assistance.

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