D.C. Divorce Process

Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors.

When there are problems in your marriage that you can't work out, you may decide that divorce is your best option. Each state has its own requirements for ending a marriage in this way. For instance, if you want to get divorced in the District of Columbia, you must comply with the residency requirements before you can begin the process.

Residency Requirements

At least one spouse must be a bona fide resident of the District for at least six months before they can file for divorce. Those who serve in the military meet the residency requirement if they reside in the District for a continuous period of six months during their period of military service.

District of Columbia Divorce Process Overview

Although it's advisable to consult with an attorney in complex cases, a guide to the law written in understandable terms can serve as a useful introduction to the relevant statutes. See the chart below for an overview of the divorce process in D.C. with summaries of the law and links to relevant statutes.

Statutes

District of Columbia Code Division II. Judiciary and Judicial Procedure:

  • Section 16-902 (residency requirements)
  • Section 16-904 (grounds for divorce)
  • Section 16-913 (alimony)

 

Grounds for a D.C. Divorce

 

The District of Columbia requires the person filing for divorce to have sufficient grounds to file whether the divorce is based on fault or is no-fault, although what constitutes acceptable grounds is different for each type of divorce.

Fault-Based Divorce

In a fault-based divorce, one spouse alleges that the other spouse did something wrong to cause the marriage to end. The accusing spouse must show evidence of the other spouse's wrongdoing. Examples of wrongdoing include adultery, abandonment, or domestic violence.

No-Fault Divorce

In a no-fault divorce neither spouse claims that the other committed any specific acts to cause the breakdown of the marriage. In these cases, the grounds for divorce can include the following:

  • The spouses must have mutually and voluntarily lived separately for at least 6 months; or
  • If the separation isn't mutual and voluntary, the spouses must have lived separately for at least 1 year prior to the divorce filing.

Complaint and Answer

The Complaint

The D.C. divorce process begins with the filing of the complaint. Along with the complaint, you must complete the family court cross-reference form and a vital statistics form.

After filing these documents with the Central Intake Center in the D.C. Superior Court, the spouse serves the other spouse with a copy. This occurs either with service of process, sending the documents via certified mail, or the spouse may agree to accept service prior to receiving notice, which eliminates the need for formal service of process.

The Answer

The respondent spouse has 20 days to respond to the complaint by filing an answer after receiving notice of the divorce. The answer must address all the terms of the complaint.

If the responding spouse doesn't respond, then the other spouse must request a default judgment.

Parents Rights to Information

Settlement Agreement

If the spouses agree about the divorce terms, they can submit a property settlement agreement to the court. This contract between the spouse can include child custody and alimony terms in addition to property-related matters.

If the spouses can't agree to the divorce terms, then the final step in the divorce process is the final hearing.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

D.C. Divorce Process: Related Resources

Speak with an Attorney About D.C.'s Divorce Process

If your marriage is beyond repair and divorce is your preferred option, consider discussing your situation with a skilled legal professional. A local divorce lawyer can help you navigate D.C.'s divorce process; contact one right away.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.