District of Columbia Divorce Basics

Learn the basics of a divorce, or dissolution of marriage, in Washington D.C.

This article explains how to obtain a divorce in the District of Columbia (DC). These rules apply to both opposite-sex and same-sex married couples.

Grounds for Divorce

The court will grant a divorce if the spouses have "mutually and voluntarily" lived apart for six months. It will also grant a divorce if you still live together but have not shared "bed or board" for one year. The District of Columbia is a no-fault divorce state, so you do not have to show any other grounds to get divorced.

Residency Requirement and Waiting Period

At least one spouse must be a resident of DC for at least six months before filing for divorce. You must then wait at least 30 days after filing the petition before the court will grant a decree or judgment of divorce.

Property Division in DC

The District of Columbia uses an equitable distribution model for dividing property, meaning the court will distribute all property and debt acquired during the marriage in a manner that it considers just, equitable, and reasonable. The court considers various factors when distributing property, including the length of the marriage, each spouse's income and ability to work, any contribution made by one spouse to further the other one's education or career, and the tax consequences for each spouse. Property that was acquired before the marriage, or during the marriage by gift or inheritance, will be the separate property of the spouse who acquired it.


The court may require either spouse to pay alimony to the other, after evaluating factors such as the length of the marriage, the standard of living during the marriage, each spouse's occupation and sources of income, and the right of either spouse to receive retirement benefits; the court may order indefinite or term-limited alimony payments. For a complete list of the factors considered in setting alimony, see DC Code Ann. § 16-913.

Child Support

DC courts use the income-shares model to determine the amount of child support payable by the noncustodial parent, so primary factor a judge looks at is the incomes of both parents. The starting point for a support order is DC's state guidelines, but the court may deviate from the guidelines after evaluating the needs of the child, the property settlement in the divorce, and the costs of medical coverage paid by the custodial parent. Child support may also include an order for health coverage for your child, and the monthly amount may be automatically withheld from your paycheck. To estimate monthly child support payments in your situation, use the Child Support Guideline Calculator. The DC Child Support Service Division enforces payment of child support.

Child Custody

The best interest of the child is the primary consideration in determining custody in DC, and the court will make an order for both legal and physical custody of a minor child based on the child's interests. Legal custody means legal responsibility for a child including the right to make decisions about the child's health, education, and welfare. Physical custody means a child's living arrangements, including a child's visitation schedule.   The court will look at the wishes of the parents; the relationship of the child with each parent; the child's adjustment to home, school, and community; the willingness of the parents to share custody, communicate, and reach shared decisions; and various other factors when determining custody. Unless the court determines that it is not in the best interest of the child, the court will generally order joint custody and frequent contact between each parent and the minor child. The parents may also submit a detailed parenting plan to the court for consideration; if the court finds it is in the child's best interest, the judge will approve the parents' plan. To modify custody, the court must determine that there has been a substantial and material change in circumstances that warrant the modification.

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