Washington DC divorce, custody and child support actions are generally consolidated and can be overwhelming, financially burdensome, and emotionally draining.
Below are some of the legal outlines pertaining to divorce, separation, division of property, annulment and alimony:
DC divorce from bonds of marriage can be granted if:
1) Parties have “mutually and voluntarily” resided separate/apart without cohabitation for six months preceding the commencement of the divorce action;
2) Or that both parties to the marriage have lived separate and apart (pursuant to court order) without cohabitation for a period of one year next preceding the commencement of the action.
A decree for legal separation is generally sought in order to have the court declare legal separation and toll the time required (6 months if voluntary or one year if involuntary) before a divorce decree can be granted as well as having the court address preliminarily child custody, child support, and spousal support and even division of property.
There are also times that parties do not wish to divorce for religious, financial or other reasons and legal separation can provide the necessary legal clarity short of divorce.
The requirements for legal separation almost mirror that of divorce.
Specifically, a decree for legal separation from bed and board may be granted if:
- Parties to the marriage have mutually and voluntarily lived separate and apart without cohabitation; or
- That both parties have lived separate and apart without cohabitation for one year preceding the filing of the action.
You may be deemed to have lived separate and apart from one another even though you reside under the same roof as long as you have each pursued separate lives sharing neither bed nor board or have been deemed separate pursuant to a court order.
The decree of legal separation may be revoked at any time by mutual consent and request of parties.
The decree may also be converted to decree for an absolute divorce upon request of the moving party when:
- There has been no reconciliation; and
- Separation has continued “voluntarily and without interruption” for a six month period or that
- Separation has continued without interruption for a period of one year.
DIVISION OF PROPERTY
The division of property in a divorce or separation actions is premised on assigning to each party his or her sole and separate property first and categorizing what remains as marital property.
Sole and Separate property is defined as property:
- Acquired prior to the marriage, and
- Sole and separate property acquired during the marriage such as gift, bequest, etc.
- Distinguishable from the material property.
EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION OF PROPERTY
There are two those jurisdictions that apply the community property legal criteria to division of property. That is, assets and property acquired during the marriage will be equally distributed 50/50 among that parties.
District of Columbia is not one of those jurisdictions.
The DC legal paradigm is the “equitable distribution of property”model.
That is, the court will distribute all property and debt accumulated during the marriage, in short marital property, that has not been addressed in a valid antenuptial or postnuptial agreement or a decree of legal separation, in a manner that is:
- Just, and
The specific factors the court considers and balances in such equitable distribution are:
- Duration of the marriage;
- Age, health, occupation, income, employment of each of the parties;
- Child custody awards and support thereof;
- Alimony and other legal financial obligation from a prior marriage;
- The future earning capacity of each party;
- Each party’s contribution to the family nucleus;
- Possible financial contribution to the education of one’s spouse to the other enhancing the earning potential;
- Each party’s fluctuations in income as a result of the marriage;
- Each party’s contribution to the acquisition, preservation, appreciation, dissipation of all depreciation assets;
- Taxation considerations on the value of the distributable assets; and
- The circumstances giving cause to filing of the divorce and estrangement of parties.
The Court may issue an order for payment of alimony to either party when deemed just and proper. The Court will specify the amount, duration and basis for such award. The order may also be retroactive to the date of filing.
AWARD OF ALIMONY
Generally the Court will weigh and balance the following factors in awarding alimony:
- Financial structure and abilities of both parties;
- Time needed for alimony receiving party to secure employment and self-sufficiency;
- Parties standard of living during the marriage;
- Duration of marriage;
- Separation causes and the contributory party, and other general factors such as;
- Age, physical and emotional status, financial landscape, needs and liabilities of each party, etc.
The duration of award of alimony may vary based on balancing the variables listed above. The alimony payment may be indefinite, limited in time or structured as appropriate and customized to every case.
An award of alimony may also be retroactive to the date in which the action commenced.
PENDENTE LITE ALIMONY
The court when appropriate and requested may grant away of alimony right away and while the litigation is ongoing.
Specifically, during the pendency of action filed for:
- Legal Seperation,
- Divorce, or
- Termination of domestic partnership.
The Court may grant one party to pay the other party Pendente lite:
- Child Support,
- Health insurance benefits,
- Cash medical support,
- Legal fees.
The Court will use the same legal elements in awarding alimony to determine the amount and appropriateness of the Pendente lite support (support pending litigation).
The Court may also enforce payment of Pendente lite support via order for:
- Property attachment,
- Garnishment and wage withholding,
- Even imprisonment and contempt for violating court order.
Marriage may be declared annulled under the following circumstances:
- Marriage was contracted when either of the parties was previously married;
- Marriage was contracted when either party was legally insane unless parties have voluntary cohabitation after the discovery of insanity.;
- Marriage was consummated by fraud or coercion;
- Either party was matrimonially incapacitated and continues to be incapacitated;
- Either party is not at a proper age of legal consent.
Premarital agreement can provide an effective and enforceable roadmap in case of separation or divorce. The key is to draft the agreement all encompassing while making sure it remains enforceable and valid if challenged.
The agreement can address a myriad of subject matters including but not limited to:
- Ownership, disposition and division of property
- Manage and control of property
- spousal support
- Trust and estate issues
- Death benefits and life insurance policy
- Choice of law
COLLABORATION V. LITIGATION
A divorce action may include child custody, child support, division of property, and alimony – several legal components launched simultaneously.
In order to be effective and efficient in proceeding with each claim, it is imperative to collaboratively and possibly through the mediation process resolve those claims that parties can agree upon and only resort to litigation on issues and claims that cannot be consensually and mutually resolved.
If there are still effective lines of communication and impetus and motivation to resolve divorce and separation issues amicably, then the collaborative process with the assistance of legal counsel can reduce unnecessary litigation and focus on resolution rather than litigation.
Although our focus is litigation, effective case management requires considering all collaborative resolution first. There are times though that only litigation can be effective.
Our DC divorce lawyer is experienced, tenacious, and thoroughly familiar with DC Superior Court divorce rules, relevant statutes and the case law.
The District has jurisdiction in a divorce action under the following circumstances:
1) At least one of the parties to the marriage has been a DC resident for the last 6 months preceding the commencement of the action (residency requirement).
2) DC maintains jurisdiction in divorce action or a legal separation by persons of the same gender even when the 6 months residency requirements have not been met when:
- The marriage was legally performed in the District; and
- Neither of the parties reside in a jurisdiction that will allow or maintain an action for divorce or legal separation.
3) A jurisdiction that does not recognize a marriage will not generally allow or maintain an action for divorce or legal separation, however in the District, such is considered a rebuttable presumption.
- DC DOMESTIC PARTNERSHIP LAWS
- WASHINGTON DC DIVORCE V. LEGAL SEPARATION; CRITERIA FOR ANNULMENT OF MARRIAGE
- DC PREMARITAL AGREEMENTS AND ENFORCEABILITY
- RECENT COURT OF APPEALS DECISION: EQUAL DISTRIBUTION OF MARITAL PROPERTY NOT NECESSARILY EQUITABLE
- DC DIVORCE LAWS: HIGHLIGHTS
- DC ALIMONY; MAINTENANCE OF SPOUSE AND MINOR CHILDREN/ENFORCEMENT; RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS:
Below are some of the sample legal documents/resources pertaining to a divorce action in the District:
- Complaint for Absolute Divorce
- Consent Answer (Absolute Divorce)
- Contested Answer and Counterclaim (Absolute Divorce)
- Reply to Counterclaim (Absolute Divorce)
- Joint Waiver of Appeal of Divorce Order/Judgment
- Joint Request for Uncontested Divorce Hearing
Divorces are generally draining both emotionally and financially. Your representation though should be impeccable and thorough so that you may preserve what is legally yours and obtain what you deserve.
Involvement of an experienced DC Divorce lawyer is critical to succeeding in the ensuing litigation or even reaching a global settlement agreement. The only consolation to a protracted and highly contested dissolution of marriage is having a competent, capable and dedicated DC divorce lawyer.
Contact our experienced Washington DC divorce attorney for an immediate case evaluation.
Your initial consultation with our family law DC divorce lawyer is complimentary.