Washington DC Divorce
Who is eligible to file for divorce in Washington DC?
The District of Columbia is a "no fault" jurisdiction, which means that you need not allege grounds for your divorce such as adultery or abandonment. Instead, you merely need to establish that: You and/or your spouse are residents of the District, and you have been separated from your spouse for at least one year. If both parties agree and mutually seek divorce, you only need to show that you've been separated for six months. In most cases, these rules are fairly straight-forward, but there are several common scenarios which can cause confusion. For example, with the high cost of living in the District, there are many couples who may not be able to afford to maintain two separate households while they establish the separation period for their divorce. In these situations, the court may still grant a divorce to a couple who has been living under the same roof, as long as they can show that they have been living "separate lives" and have not been co-habitating during the relevant period preceding their divorce filing.
What are the first steps to filing for divorce in DC?
Once the grounds for divorce have been established, either spouse may file a complaint in the D.C. Superior Court Family Court Domestic Relations Branch seeking a divorce. The "complaint" is a legal document setting forth the basic facts that establish your eligibility for divorce and stating the relief that you are seeking. At this point, it is crucial that you fully understand your rights. At the time that your divorce complaint is filed, the court has the power to resolve several issues for you. For example, the court can divide marital property and/or debt and can award spousal support (alimony). Even if you don't own a home or a car, property and debt division could still impact you if you have things like savings accounts, retirement accounts, pensions, life insurance, credit card debt, or other bills. Several of these claims can have life-long financial impact on the parties, and if the issues are not raised at the time of the initial complaint for divorce, they could be permanently waived. If you are considering filing for divorce, it is critical that you fully understand your rights and that you consult with a skilled D.C. divorce attorney who can ensure that your initial divorce complaint is thorough and complete, and that the complaint does not inadvertently waive critical claims. Litigants may also choose to file child custody and child support claims at the time of the initial divorce complaints.
Service of process
After filing a divorce complaint, the next step is to serve the defendant with notice of the lawsuit. In order to establish proper service, the plaintiff must serve the defendant either in person, or by certified mail, within the District of Columbia. The process server can be anyone who is over the age of 18, except the plaintiff him or herself. After having the defendant served, the plaintiff must file an affidavit wherein the process-server has sworn that the defendant was served with notice of the lawsuit. The divorce complaint will be dismissed if the defendant has not been served or if the affidavit of service has not been properly filed. Some people have trouble locating an estranged spouse. If there are compelling reasons, the DC courts may the plaintiff to establish the notice requirements by posting or publication of the notice, instead of personal service. In order to proceed without personal service, the plaintiff must convince the judge that he or she did everything possible to locate his former spouse. These efforts are often very time consuming and not at all an easy course of action.