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District of Columbia Alimony Laws

Washington, D.C. residents must divorce and request an alimony award through DC courts. A DC divorce is no different than one in any other state, including alimony and spousal support. In D.C., a spouse must show the need for alimony and the ability of the party to pay the requested amount.

Parties in a divorce or legal separation may agree to alimony, or the judge may order the higher-earning spouse to provide the other spouse with reasonable support. Alimony is not guaranteed. It offers temporary assistance to the former spouse until they can support themselves.

District of Columbia Alimony Laws

Statutes - District of Columbia General Laws:

  • Section 16-904 - Grounds for divorce
  • Section 16-911 - Pendente lite relief
  • Section 16-913 - Alimony
  • Section 46-204 - Amendment of order establishing alimony

When To Request Alimony

You can request alimony during:

  • Divorce
  • Legal separation
  • Annulment

If the parties don’t have an alimony agreement before going to court, the judge will order alimony if a party requests it. Spousal support is not automatically granted like child support.

The D.C. code defines alimony as gender neutral. The court can order either spouse in a marriage or domestic partnership to pay alimony to the lower-income spouse.

If a party needs temporary alimony (pendente lite relief) before the end of the divorce, the judge may order the higher-earning spouse to pay the other spouse temporary support. Alternatively, the court may order the spouse to continue paying household expenses during the court process.

Alimony Factors

Courts consider several relevant factors when awarding alimony, including:

  • Length of the marriage
  • Age and health of each spouse
  • Marital standard of living
  • Financial needs and potential income of each spouse
  • Child custody and support awarded in this case
  • Time needed for the recipient spouse to obtain suitable employment

Types of Alimony Payments

In D.C., there are two types of alimony: term-limited and indefinite.

Term-Limited Alimony

Term-limited, or rehabilitative alimony, lasts for a period of time set by the court. Term-limited alimony helps lower-income spouses receive training and work experience to become financially independent.

Term-limited alimony ends when the court order dictates. It may also end if the recipient spouse remarries, becomes financially stable sooner than anticipated, or the parties agree to terminate support.

Indefinite Alimony

Indefinite or permanent alimony is seldom awarded. Permanent alimony is more likely in:

  • Long-term marriages (20 years or more) where one spouse is unlikely to become self-sufficient
  • Cases of disability or chronic illness
  • Situations that will prevent the recipient spouse from working, such as being the primary caregiver of a special needs child

D.C. law does not use a formula or calculator like many states when creating financial support orders. Judges have discretion on the amount and duration of the order.


Parties may modify the alimony order when there is a "significant change in circumstances." The requesting party must show a change in the paying spouse's ability to pay or the recipient spouse's needs.

Note: State laws are subject to change through the passage of new legislation, court rulings (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. FindLaw strives to provide the most current information available. You should consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) before making any legal decisions.

District of Columbia Alimony Laws: Related Resources

Speak With an Attorney About D.C. Alimony Law

Spousal support is an important aspect of your divorce or legal separation proceedings. For more information about how alimony laws will affect your divorce, talk to a skilled D.C. divorce lawyer immediately.

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