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District of Columbia Marital Property Laws

Getting a divorce is a major undertaking. Besides the personal pain and practical hassle of moving out and moving on, legal proceedings can be protracted and aggravating. Filing for divorce, dividing marital property, determining alimony payments, and finalizing a divorce are the main steps to take, but you may also need to make difficult child custody decisions.

When couples aren't able to come to an agreement regarding these issues, courts have the authority to decide. While courts do have some discretion in making these decisions, state laws provide guidelines. For example, state marital property laws provide courts with guidance on how a couple's property will be divided upon divorce.

Property Division

Most jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia, direct courts to make an "equitable distribution" of marital property during a divorce. Often, state law directs a court to order a distribution based on what's best for the parties, their children, and their particular circumstances. It's common for relative education and income, homemaking and child-care contributions, and other details of the marriage to factor into the property distribution determination.

All property -- including each spouse's separate property, all joint property, and any property in the name of one spouse only -- can come into this process in some manner. Courts have a lot of flexibility to fashion a distribution that they think works best.

There's also a small number of states that don't use this approach, instead relying on a community property distribution system. Community property states give each spouse a 50 percent ownership interest in all property acquired during the marriage. It's also important to note that prenuptial agreements can impact how property is divided upon a divorce.

District of Columbia Marital Property Laws at a Glance

It's always important to read the actual text of a statute, but it can also be helpful to read an overview of the law to help you better understand the statute. In the following table, you'll find both an overview of marital property laws in D.C. as well as links to relevant statutes.

Statute(s)

District of Columbia Code, Division II, Title 16, Chapter 9, Section 16-910 (Assignment and Equitable Distribution of Property)

Community Property Recognized?

No

How is Property Divided in D.C.?

D.C.'s marital property laws direct courts to consider a number of factors when making a property distribution, including (but not limited to):

  • What led to the divorce;
  • Duration of the marriage;
  • The age, health, occupation, and employability of the parties;
  • Provisions for children;
  • Existing provisions for children from before the marriage;
  • Contributions of a homemaker or caretaker;
  • Contribution to the other spouse's education or earning ability; and
  • Tax considerations on dividing property and assets.
Dower and Curtesy

Dower and curtesy abolished as per Section 19-102.

Related Statute(s)

District of Columbia Code, Division II, Title 16, Chapter 9, Section 16-901, et seq. (Divorce, Annulment, Separation, Support, Etc.)

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 Marital Property Laws: Related Resources

For more information and resources related to this topic, please visit the links listed below.

Have Specific Questions About D.C. Marital Property Laws? Ask a Lawyer

Divorce and marital property questions are complex. The answers can often depend on the circumstances of a marriage or domestic partnership. If you have questions about your property rights, it's a good idea to speak with a local divorce lawyer who can explain how District of Columbia marital property laws apply to you.

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