Washington DC Divorce Lawyer

The Washington DC divorce, child custody and child support actions are generally consolidated and can be overwhelming, financially detrimental, and emotionally draining.  The DC divorce statute is complicated and there are both common law and statutory interpretations applicable in the divorce proceedings.

Moreover, the child custody aspect of the divorce proceeding can be driven to litigation fueled by emotions and impulse rather than facts and evidence at times obfuscating the very legal criteria: the best interests of the children.

Given the forces involved and the life changing outcomes attributed to such matters, it is not only imperative but it is absolutely necessary to engage a Washington DC Divorce lawyer experienced in all areas of family law, particularly child custody  — because nothing is more important than to be able to retain legal and physical custody of the children after a divorce.

Below are some of the legal outlines and parameters pertaining to:

DC DIVORCE: LEGAL ELEMENTS

DC divorce from bonds of marriage can be granted under two legal paths:

  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.

It is important to highlight the distinction: mutually and voluntarily. If there is no mutual and voluntarily separation with a date certain among the parties, then, the second prong kicks in and the parties would have to wait the full one year before obtaining a final decree divorce.

This does not mean that the proceedings cannot start before particularly when there are pertinent legal issues to be determined by the court such as pendente lite alimony, child custody, child support, marital property, etc.   One way to commence proceedings early is via  action for legal separation.

LEGAL SEPARATION

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:

  1. Parties to the marriage have mutually and voluntarily lived separate and apart without cohabitation; or
  2. That both parties have lived separate and apart without cohabitation for one year preceding the filing of the action.

You may be declared to have lived separate and apart even when residing under the same roof.  The qualifying condition would be that each party must pursue a separate life, not sharing bed nor board or have been deemed separated 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.

ACCOUNTING CONSIDERATIONS/DC DIVORCE

The duration and the amount of  awarded alimony may vary based on balancing the variables listed.   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.

Award of alimony and distribution of property at time would involve more accounting tactics than legal maneuvers.  It is imperative to have a coherent and organized financial landscape in advance of litigation to prevent a protracted and unnecessary legal dispute over numbers and minutia rather than substance.

Additionally, Judges are not accountants and generally have a low tolerance with exertion over numbers.  So it is imperative in complex property and assets divorces to have a meeting of minds over certain aspects of the financial distribution of assets and to leave only the essential litigation for the decision by the courts.

Our Washington DC divorce lawyer generally engages or works closely with financial advisors or accountants to coordinate representation.

Refer also to our Washington DC Prenuptial Lawyer page for information and guidance regarding categorizing and designating joint and separate properties prior or post marriage.

SEPARATION AGREEMENTS

A Marital Settlement Agreement serves as a road map to divorce and separation and can include very detailed paragraphs addressing some of the listed items below:

  • Child Custody
  • Child Support
  • Alimony
  • Division of all marital property
  • Division and responsibility for spousal debts
  • Health Insurance for the children, spouse and coverage
  • Disposition, sell, or equity purchase of Marital Home
  • Pension and retirement plans for each spouse
  • Tax consequences and deferments
  • Separation date
  • Waiver of discovery
  • Future modification
  • Merger or incorporated agreements

Generally after an extensive collaborative process, parties with the aid of their counsel can draft and agree upon terms for dissolution of every aspect of marriage.  These agreements can significantly reduce need for litigation and alleviate the emotional and financial distress due to divorce and separation.

The agreements may also be either merged or incorporated in the final divorce decree.  Merged agreements are enforceable through the family court proceedings with contempt power, and incorporated act as stand alone agreements generally enforceable through civil proceedings.

Regardless the court still needs to make best interests of the children determination on the child custody portion of the agreement and also make sure child support amount is guideline compliant.

Our Washington DC divorce lawyer has critical experience in both drafting an enforceable and comprehensive agreement as well as having fully litigated every aspect of a separation agreement.

JURISDICTION

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.

ANNULMENT

Marriage may be declared annulled under the following circumstances:

  1. Marriage was contracted when either of the parties was previously married;
  2. Marriage was contracted when either party was legally insane unless parties have voluntary cohabitation after the discovery of insanity.;
  3. Marriage was consummated by fraud or coercion;
  4. Either party was matrimonially incapacitated and continues to be incapacitated;
  5. Either party is not at a proper age of legal consent.

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 and also is equally trained and experience in the child custody and support areas of family law which are invariably intertwined.

CONTESTED v. UNCONTESTED DC DIVORCE

If the collaborative process can bring about resolution and agreement on any number of separation issues, such as child custody, child support, marital property/debt, and alimony then, the court filing can specifically enumerate issues agreed upon and request court action on those still contested.    If all marital and separation issues are however resolved through a collaborative process and reflected in a separation agreement then parties can proceed uncontested with joint filings to expedite the process.

As long as the statutory period has lapsed, the uncontested matters can obtain a final decree of divorce.   The name change request would also be reflected in the final decree and parties may also waive the appellate rights to even further expedite the final decree.  To waive the appeal, parties would have to attest:

  • Parties have reviewed the Divorce Order/Judgment that will be entered.
  • Each party has the right to appeal the Divorce Order/Judgment for up to 30 days after the order has been entered on the court docket.
  • Parties understand that the divorce is not considered final until to appeal has expired unless parties here agree to waive their right to appeal.

DIVORCE AND SCOPE OF DISCOVERY

In the contested matters the scope and the limits of discoverable items can be broad as the Domestic Relations Rules governing the discovery process allow for discovery of any matter as long as not privileged, relevant to the issues litigated and the pending action including but not limited to:

  • Existence,
  • Description,
  • Nature,
  • Custody,
  • Condition and
  • Location of any books, documents, or tangible objects.

Moreover, the discovery methods may vary depending on the litigants and the subject matter of dispute, but could include all or part of the following methods:

  • Depositions upon oral examination or written questions,
  • Written interrogatories,
  • Requests for production,
  • Permission to enter property for inspection and other purposes,
  • Physical and mental examinations,
  • Requests for admission.

DC SAME SEX MARRIAGE & DIVORCE

The landmark Supreme Court decision of Obergefell v. Hodge in 2015, bestowed the same rights of marriage to the same sex couple under both the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth amendment. After the decision all States must and have accordingly issued marriage licenses to the same sex couple and the issue of dissolution of marriage would vest strictly on the jurisdiction having met the residency requirements.

Prior to the decision, the District being proactive on the subject and under the Civil Marriage Dissolution Equality Amendment of 2014 allowed by Statute for the non-resident, same-sex couples who had married in the District, but resided in a jurisdiction which did not recognize or allowed such marriage  — to return to the District in order to address dissolution of marriage.

The bill even went as far as expanding the DC Court’s authority to weigh on such matters as:

  • Alimony,
  • Assignment and equitable distribution of property and
  • Child custody determinations.

Such was implemented for the same sex couples  even with the couples not residing in the District clearing applying and interpreting the laws of State of residency but all in the DC Courts.

As of June 2017, there remain still few jurisdictions in Texas and Alabama who refuse to honor same sex marriage.  The DC Amendment would apply to those couples residing in those territories as long as the marriage was performed in DC.

FAULT v. NO-FAULT DC DIVORCE

DC is a no fault jurisdiction.  That is, adultery, desertion, abandonment, and cruelty or abuse all are no basis for filing for divorce but will be considered under a general statutory umbrella “the circumstances which contributed to the estrangement of the parties” which is one of the elements associated with the equitable distribution of property.  As detailed above, the statute only requires 6 months of “mutual and voluntary”separation or one year if not “mutual and voluntary” before filing for an action for divorce.

In reality though, judges are subjectively objective in their rulings particularly when there is no jury to take the decisions away from them.  Thus a well orchestrated and properly litigated contested-divorce would need to assign and highlight all the fault and all the blame as even though the statute does not require it — overall effective legal strategy requires it as the Judges pay very close attention to “Fault” in divorce.

The Child Custody Statute however particularly addresses intra-family offenses and domestic violence in tipping the balance from a presumption of joint legal and physical custody to a rebuttable presumption if there exists evidence of any form of domestic violence or intra-family offenses.  Refer to that page for more information on the topic.

SUMMARY

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 financially and be rewarded legal and physical custody over your children.

Engaging a tenacious, highly skilled and experienced Washington DC Divorce lawyer is paramount if every aspect of marriage must be resolved via litigation.  The only consolation to a protracted and highly contested dissolution of marriage is having a competent, capable and dedicated DC divorce lawyer who would tirelessly advocate for your cause.

Contact our experienced Washington DC divorce attorney to schedule an intake appointment.

Your initial consultation with our DC divorce lawyer is complimentary.

RESOURCES:

ADDITIONAL FORMS & RESOURCES:

  1. DC FAMILY CASES INCLUDING DIVORCE – GUIDE 
  2. Divorce, Separation, Annulment — DC BAR PRO BONO
  • Divorce
  • 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

DC DIVORCE VISUAL AID GRAPHICS