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Your Washington, D.C. Divorce: The Basics

The tension between you and your spouse is worse than the relationship between RG3 and Shanahan was at the end of 2013. Like the 'Skins, you're ready for one of you to call it quits. Since it doesn't look like your spouse is looking to end the marriage any time soon, read on to find out what you need to know when you file for divorce in D.C.


In Washington D.C., there are only two grounds (legally accepted reasons) on which you can file for divorce:

  1. You and your spouse agreed to and have lived separately from one another without cohabitation (meaning no "sexual relations") for six months; or
  2. You and your spouse have lived separately for a year -- whether or not you both agreed to do so. If you and your spouse share the same home, the court will recognize that you have lived "separately" if you do not share a bed or food.


Because Washington, D.C. is a "no-fault" jurisdiction, you do not need to prove anything else (such as fault or wrong-doing) in order to file for divorce.

Property Distribution

When it comes to property division in a divorce, it is important to know that in D.C., generally, each spouse keeps his or her separate property -- which is property acquired before marriage, as well as gifts and inheritance received during the marriage. If the couple cannot agree on a distribution of the remaining property on their own, the court will divide it up in a way it determines to be equitable or fair. This means that the actual monetary value of the assets distributed to each spouse may not necessarily be equal. To ensure a fair distribution, the court will consider many factors, including:

  • The length of the marriage;
  • Each spouse's age and health;
  • Each spouse's income;
  • Each spouse's financial resources;
  • The contribution each spouse made to the acquisition of property;
  • One spouse's contribution to the marriage as a homemaker; and
  • Any custodial provisions involving the children.

Spousal Support

In Washington, D.C., spousal support is called "alimony." The court uses several factors in determining whether alimony should be ordered -- and if it is ordered, then for how much and for how long. Note that the court may factor in any instances of marital misconduct. Other factors considered by the court include:

  • The length of marriage;
  • The ability of the spouse requesting support to be self-sufficient;
  • The time necessary for the spouse to acquire training and education to obtain employment;
  • The couple's standard of living prior to divorce;
  • Each spouse's age;
  • Each spouse's financial needs and resources; and
  • Each spouse's physical and mental health.

Child Custody

In determining a child custody arrangement, the court will always base its decision on the best interests of the child. In the District of Columbia, it is presumed that the child will benefit most from frequent and continuing contact with both parents -- therefore, the court generally regards joint custody as the ideal custody arrangement. However, since every family is different, the court may take into account several factors in deciding the final custody arrangement. Some of these factors include:

  • The wishes of the child;
  • The wishes of the parents;
  • The child's relationship with parents and siblings;
  • The relationship between the parents and their ability to effectively communicate and agree on decisions;
  • The involvement of each parent in the child's life before the separation;
  • The distance between the parents' homes; and
  • Any history of domestic violence.

Child Support

If you request child support, you should know Washington, D.C. uses special guidelines (basically, a formula) to calculate the child support amount. The child support formula takes into account the combined incomes of both parents, as well as the number of children each parent is required to support. To estimate the amount of child support owed in your case, use the Office of the Attorney General's child support guideline calculator.

More Information

Going through a divorce is an emotional experience. Lessen your overall stress by learning more about what you can expect as you navigate the process. Browse more general information by checking out FindLaw's section on divorce. If you have legal questions regarding your divorce, you may also consider retaining a family law attorney.

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