Washington D.C. divorce details
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Uncontested VS Contested Divorce in Washington DC
There are two main ways how a divorce may occur - you can contest the case or not.
A Contested divorce is what people usually imagine while heard the word “divorce”, though nowadays it is a much less popular type. A Contested divorce is concerned with the one spouse's disagreement to divorce, a number of court hearings, litigation, and, of course, high attorney's fees. In Washington, D.C., a contested divorce can take about 18 months or longer to finalize, and up to 25,000 on attorney’s fees (each spouse pays separately for his/her lawyer’s service).
An Uncontested divorce is increasingly popular for its short terms and low cost, but it’s appropriate not for everyone. The couples who have neither children nor great assets and property to argue about its division are the best candidates for an uncontested divorce. In other cases, to be eligible for uncontested divorce you should be ready to negotiate with your spouse and decide children-related issues and property division out of court, without a trial.
Uncontested Divorce in Washington DC
Uncontested divorce implies that the spouses independently decide all those issues that are usually decided by the judge. Negotiation and readiness to compromise are essential parts of uncontested divorce, so if the parties can reach an agreement they even may arrange their divorce without an attorneys’ assistance. Sometimes they recourse to mediation for help, sometimes a parenting class may be required by the court for those who have children, but all this is still cheaper and less stressfully than traditional litigation.
Grounds for Divorce in Washington DC
Filing for divorce you must point out the ground of dissolution.
Washington, D.C. is a pure no-fault jurisdiction, what means that no one is to blame, and there is no need to disclose the unpleasant details of the relationship before the court. This is a modern and business approach. According to the Code of the District of Columbia there only two acceptable reasons to file for divorce:
- The spouses voluntarily have lived separate and apart as long as 6 months or more before starting the divorce motion.
- The parties have lived separate and apart for a period of one year next preceding the commencement of the action.
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Washington DC Residency Requirements to File for Divorce
To be eligible for divorce in the District of Columbia it's acceptable for only one of the spouses to meet the residency requirement of the jurisdiction.
Thus, one or both spouses must reside in Washington DC continuously for at least 6 months before filing for divorce.
You must file all the divorce forms and documents at the D.C. Superior Court in the Family Court Central Intake Center.
How to File for an Uncontested Divorce in Washington DC?
Once you decided to get an uncontested divorce in the District of Columbia and you meet the residency requirements and match one of the grounds for divorce, the process begins.
Although some of your individual circumstances may demand some additional efforts, here are the main steps you need to take anyway to finalize your uncontested divorce in DC:
- It’s good to prepare the Settlement Agreement in advance. This document outlines all your agreed terms of the divorce.
- File the “Complaint for Divorce” and the rest of needed forms in the D.C. Superior Court Family Court Central Intake Center.
- Your spouse must file a Consent Answer as well, and you both must sign the "Uncontested Praecipe" which tells the court that you ask for an uncontested court hearing.
- Wait until the court inform you about your hearing date. There is no mandatory waiting period in DC, but the court needs some time to consider your paperwork.
- Attend the final hearing. Typically, only the Petitioner must participate. Submit the Settlement Agreement to the judge. If the judge approves the Agreement he/she signs a divorce order, and the case is finalized.
Do-It-Yourself Divorce in Washington DC
DIY divorce is a divorce proceeding when the parties represent their interests before the court independently, namely, without attorneys. It’s allowed in DC.
If your case is uncontested you probably a good candidate for Do-it-yourself divorce. Given the amount of self-help divorce guides and other useful information online you may arrange your case with your almost-ex spouse’s support, and you can get the divorce forms from the District of Columbia Courts website.
Surely, if you have any difficulties you shouldn't ignore such opportunities as mediation or the service of online divorce form preparation.
How Much Does an Uncontested Divorce Cost?
The total cost of uncontested divorce starts with a filing fee, which is $120 in Washington DC. Additional costs may include mediators’ fees which are up to $7000 per case, or attorneys’ fees, which are much higher - between $20,000 and $25,000 on average.
Notice, that the spouses share the cost of mediation, while every pays for his/her attorney themselves.
How Long Does It Take to Get Divorced in Washington DC?
Grounds for divorce in Washington DC affect the length of the process. For a contested divorce the spouses must be separated for a year before filing the Complaint. For an uncontested divorce, a six-months separation is required.
After that, an uncontested divorce typically takes between two and three months.
A contested divorce proceeding can last about 18 months or even longer.
How to Serve Your Spouse in Washington DC
If your divorce case is uncontested you can do without the service process. Instead of it, you must file the “Joint praecipe” - the document which is your request for uncontested hearing. It must be filled out when all the agreements are reached and submitted to the court.
If your divorce is contested you must serve your spouse with the copies of the Complaint and the Summons through “personal service,” “substitute service at home,” or by certified mail with a return receipt.
Personal and substitute services may be implemented by any adult except you. Divorce paperwork can be handed directly to your spouse, or to another adult who currently cohabitates with your ex-partner.
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Papers & Documents You Need to Get a Divorce in Washington DC
Here is the list of main forms you will need to file for an uncontested divorce in DC. They are available on the District of Columbia Courts website.
- Absolute Divorce Complaint.
- Uncontested Praecipe.
- Consent Answer (Absolute Divorce).
- Cross Reference Intake Form.
- Joint praecipe.
Attachments for Divorce forms, which may be need if you have children and/or property and you seek for resolving related issues:
- Attachment A (Marital Property and Marital Debt).
- Attachment B (Child Custody).
- Attachment C (Child Support).
Notice, that you may need some additional papers depending on your individual circumstances.
Online Divorce in Washington DC
Although you can't do it without filing the papers with a Supreme Court and attending a court hearing, you still can prepare for your divorce online and make it a little bit easier.
Such online divorce companies like ours offer online divorce forms preparation, in order you don’t have to learn the laws of the DC and spend time on the selection and filling of paperwork.
We work like this: you provide us with information about your case and then, we adapt the forms in accordance with its peculiarities and the District of Columbia rules.
Rules for Child Support and Visitation in Washington DC
In Washington DC, the main condition on which basis a child custody is awarded is "the best interest of the child". Each parent may have a custody regardless of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and other factors. The court considers the wishes of the child and parents as to the custody, the demands of parental employment, physical and mental condition of the parties, each parent’s contribution to the child’s life prior to divorce, habitual standard of living, and so on.
On the basis of these factors, such types of custody can be appointed:
- Sole legal custody.
- Sole physical custody.
- Joint legal custody.
- Joint physical custody.
Legal custody refers to the decision-making power of the parents. It determines who is responsible for the major decisions concerned with the child’s life.
Physical custody means living arrangements, it determines the child’s residency and visitation schedule.
As for child support, it is determined under the “Income Shares Model”. The court estimates an average amount that was usually spent on the child before the divorce, and divides this sum between the parents, taking into account their incomes.
Detailed calculation is possible with the help of the District of Columbia Child Support Guidelines, which contains the Schedule of Basic Child Support Obligations as well.
Rules for Spousal Support in Washington DC
Spousal support, or alimony, is a one-time or periodical payment from the spouse with higher income to assist his/her ex-spouse who can’t support themselves for some reason. As nowadays each spouse whether it’s a husband or wife may be both a “breadwinner” or “homemaker” the alimony arrangement doesn’t depend on the spouse’s gender.
In DC, there are two types of a spousal support:
- "Pendente lite" support. The one-time payment while the divorce action is in process.
- Temporary alimony. The payment awarded to the specific period, or until the certain event happens.
- Permanent alimony. Very rare type of alimony, which can be awarded after the long marriages, and when the receiving spouse really can’t be self-sufficient due to the age or health condition.
The most common type of alimony is of a rehabilitative nature. The spousal support is paid until the spouse in need obtain a new professional skill or find an appropriate job.
Division of Property in Washington DC
Washington DC follows the equitable distribution principles. During a divorce proceeding, all the couple’s marital property must be divided in a fair and equitable (sometimes, far from equal) way.
Deciding property division the court considers such aspects like age and health condition of each spouse, their earning capacity, and employability, sources of income, contribution to the family welfare (including non-monetary), contribution into the other spouse’s education and professional improvement, debts, special needs, and so on.
Foremost, the spouses and the judge should determine what of the property is marital, and what is not, because the separate property of each spouse typically is not subject to division.
Separate property implies all that the spouses had prior to marriage, all the personal gifts and inheritances which were given for one spouse, as well as objects purchased/exchanged for separate property.
Division of Debt in Washington DC
The debt accumulated during the married life is considered to be part of a marital property. It is divided under the same equitable distribution rules. The judge takes into account who collected the debt and what was the purpose of loan/credit/etc.
Divorce Mediation in Washington DC
Mediation is a process alternative to litigation. Divorce mediation assumes that the spouses cooperate to resolve the most controversial terms of their divorce under the guidance of a mediator - the neutral third party who helps to reach an agreement on all issues.
Unlike litigation, you can’t “win” a mediation process, it is not competitive action. The aim of mediation is to make a mutually beneficial settlement agreement which fits both spouses.
Mediation is a good opportunity for couples who don’t want to hire an attorney. Mediators' fees are much lower, and assistance may be useful, especially if you have children and want to keep a smooth relationship with your former spouse.
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How to Divorce a Missing Spouse in Washington DC
If you can’t locate your spouse, and therefore, to file for uncontested divorce or to serve the spouse with the divorce paperwork, you still are eligible for divorce in DC. Divorce by publication comes into play:
- To file for divorce by publication, first, you must prove the court that you did your best to find the missing spouse. You should make a genuine search and then to describe your efforts with an Affidavit of Diligent Search and submit this form to the court.
- Once the court approved it, you should file other several forms so that the court could issue an "Order Publication-Absent Defendant".
- After that, you must publish a Notice of Publication in the Washington Law Reporter and another newspaper (once a week for three weeks).
- Your spouse has 40 days to answer, after which he/she is considered to be properly served and the divorce case is considered to be uncontested. It’s finalized without a Defendant’s participation.
Default Divorce in Washington DC
In Washington DC, once you served your spouse with the divorce paperwork he/she has 20 days to file an answer. If the Defendant fails to respond within this period you may file for a Default Divorce in order to continue the motion.
Complete the “Affidavit in Support of Default and in Compliance with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act” and file it with the Family Court Central Intake Center.
The judge will consider your case and grant you divorce without any participation of the other party.
Annulment of the Marriage in Washington DC
Annulment is a legal action that declares the marriage void from its very beginning, based on official grounds. Thus, not every marriage can be annulled. Here is the list of the grounds for annulment in Washington DC and the marriages which are prohibited according to D.C. Code.
Grounds for Annulment:
- one party lacked the ability to consent due to mental insanity
- consent was obtained by force or fraud
- a hidden fact of an impotence
- underage marriage
- marriages by D.C. residents made in foreign jurisdictions that are illegal under D.C. law.
An annulment doesn't imply something like divorce proceeding or legal separation. Officially, the marriage is considered to never happen.
Legal Separation in Washington DC
Legal Separation is a procedure that seems quite similar to divorce. Filing for Legal Separation, the spouses resolve child custody & support issues, divide property and liabilities, and so on.
However, while after the divorce the marriage is decisively terminated, after the legal separation the spouses remain married and aren’t allowed to marry others.
If the spouses still don't want to reconcile after a year of a legal separation each of them can ask for an absolute divorce.
Same-Sex Divorce in Washington DC
Same-sex marriage, as well as same-sex divorce, are officially recognized in the District of Columbia since 2009. And after the landmark Supreme Court Ruling, 2015, that gave an equal right to marry for all the couples nationwide, things became really easier.
Now, as the same-sex marriage and divorce are recognized in all the states, there are no differences between residency requirement for straight and gay couples.
Same-sex spouses must take the same steps to arrange their divorce case.
Military Divorce in Washington DC
If you or your spouse is a military member, your divorce case occurs according to such federal laws as the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act, and the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act.
Foremost, all the military members are protected from the default judgement. An active service member may not to answer the Complaint if he/she is on duty. The divorce proceeding postpones for this period and another 60 days after.
Also, it's not allowed to distribute the military member's pension. There is an exception if the spouses were married more than 10 years while the member has been active duty military.
How to Divorce a Spouse in Jail in Washington DC
There is no some special rules of how to divorce an incarcerated spouse in DC, but you probably may act like in regular divorce case, if your relationship with your spouse is smooth and you are able to communicate. The point is that only the Petitioner (filing spouse) must attend the final hearing, so it’s not the problem if your spouse can’t be present.
Otherwise, if you can't reach an agreement and your case is contested, you can’t do it without an attorney.
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Washington DC Divorce Filing Fee
Court filing fees are in addition to the cost of using DivorceFiller.com. This cost may vary by county. Please check with your local courthouse to determine the exact amount.
Can a Filing Fee Be Waived?
Yes, if you really can't afford to make a payment you should ask for a waiver at the time you file a Complaint. In legal terms, the fee waiver is called “In Forma Pauperis”. You must complete this application and provide the court with the necessary information about your financial hardship.
How We Can Help?
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