District of Columbia Marital Property Laws

Getting a divorce is a major moment. Besides the personal pain and practical hassle of moving out and moving on, legal proceedings can be protracted and aggravating. Filing for divorce, determining support or alimony payments, making child custody decisions, and finalizing a divorce are all legal steps. Courts frequently make these decisions and they are the subject of state marital property laws. Here’s a quick summary of how marital property is divided in the District of Columbia.

Marital Property Laws

Most states direct courts to make an "equitable distribution" of marital property during a divorce. Often, state law directs a court to make and order a distribution based on what’s best for the parties, their children, and their particular circumstances. It’s common for relative education and income, homemaking and child-care contributions, and other details of the marriage to factor into the property distribution.

All property, including each spouse’s separate property, all joint property, and any property in the name of one spouse only, can come into this process in some manner. Courts have a lot of flexibility to fashion a distribution that they think works best.

There are also some states that don't do this, and use a legal system known as community property. Community property states give each spouse a fifty percent ownership interest in all property acquired during the marriage. Many large states (California, Texas) are community property states, but Washington D.C. and neighboring states aren't among them.

D.C.’s Marital Property Laws

Washington D.C. is an equitable distribution state. The district’s marital property laws direct courts to assign each party to a divorce his or her own separate property. This includes all property owned by that spouse before the marriage or a domestic partnership. It also includes all separate property acquired during the marriage via gift or inheritance.

Community Property Recognized? No.
Dower And Curtesy Dower and Curtesy abolished (§ 19-102)

D.C.’s marital property laws direct courts to consider a number of factors when making a property distribution. These include (but aren’t limited to):

  • What led to the divorce;
  • Duration of the marriage;
  • The age, health, occupation, and employability of the parties;
  • Provisions for children;
  • Existing provisions for children from before the marriage;
  • Contributions of a homemaker or caretaker;
  • Contribution to the other spouse’s education or earning ability;
  • Tax considerations on dividing property and assets.

Also, there’s the potential for prenuptial agreements and agreements between the parties to serve as the basis for any property distribution.

Related Resources for Marital Property Laws

Divorce and marital property questions are complex. The answer can often depend on the circumstances of a marriage or domestic partnership. There’s also a lot of information, details, and common practices that only a local divorce attorney can help navigate. You can find more general information on divorce and divorce and property on these pages.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.