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District of Columbia Child Custody Laws

Whether you're thinking about separating or in the midst of divorce proceedings, one concern can rise above the rest. What happens to the children? The answer can often depend on where you live. Each state has its own laws governing child custody. The same is true in our nation's capital. Here's a quick summary of the law in D.C. governing who gets child custody and how that determination is reached.

Determining Child Custody in D.C.

Courts hearing divorce proceedings will make determinations about child care and custody from an early point. Since legal separation is required before a divorce in D.C., parents generally live apart before a divorce is finalized. A court will consider custody before the divorce and enter an order. A permanent determination can be made once the divorce is finalized.

District of Columbia law gives a court making custody decisions considerable flexibility to reach a solution that's in the best interests of the child. What the child wants, what the parents want, and the interests of other people closely involved in a child's life; the child's home, school, and community interests; and the ability of divorced parents to work together all enter into the equation.

Courts can award sole legal custody, sole physical custody, joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or whatever other form of custody is determined to be in the child's best interests. D.C. law includes a presumption that joint custody is in the best interests of the child, though this presumption can be challenged (rebutted) in custody proceedings. There are also some red flags that will weigh against custody. Domestic violence, child abuse or neglect, and parental kidnapping reverse the presumption and favor sole custody.

District of Columbia Child Custody Laws: The Basics

Even though reading the actual statute is an important step of legal research, it can be helpful to also read an overview of the statue in plain English. In the following table, you'll find an overview of child custody laws in D.C. as well as links to applicable statute(s).


District of Columbia Code, Division II, Title 16, Chapter 9, Section 16-914 (Custody of Children)

Year Uniform Child Custody Act Adopted


Joint Custody an Option?

Yes. In fact, there's a rebuttable presumption that joint custody is in the best interests of a child as per Section 16-914(a)(2).

Are Grandparent Visitation Rights Recognized?


Are a Child's Own Wishes Considered?


Related Statute(s)

District of Columbia Code, Division II, Title 16, Chapter 9, Section 16-909, et seq. (Proof of Child's Relationship to Parents)

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.

District of Columbia Child Custody Laws: Related Resources

For additional information and resources, please click on the links listed below.

Find Out How D.C. Child Custody Laws Apply to You: Talk to a Lawyer

It can be difficult for couples to agree on child custody decisions, especially if they're in the middle of getting a divorce. If you'd like help with your child custody case, it's best to speak with an experienced child custody attorney who can explain and protect your rights under District of Columbia child custody laws.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Custody & child visitation cases are emotional, and a lawyer can seek the best outcome
  • A lawyer can help protect your children's interests
  • Lawyers can seek to secure visitation rights

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