Obtaining a divorce is an emotional and stressful process. Even if you believe that your divorce will be “uncontested,” meaning that your spouse will agree to the divorce, there are many issues beyond simply ending the marriage that you have to think about.
Consulting with or retaining an attorney is always a smart thing to do. An attorney can make sure that your legal rights are protected and can assist you with any issues that may arise throughout the course of your divorce. If your spouse is not agreeing to the divorce, you will most likely need a lawyer.
You may also want to consider using a mediator to help you and your spouse come to a resolution about your divorce and the other issues involved. Sometimes a mediator can make divorce quicker, less stressful, and keep you out of court. The D.C. Family Court offers a free mediation service through the Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Division.
If you decide to represent yourself, you can obtain more information at the Family Court Self-Help Center located in the D.C. Superior Court. The center can explain the process to you, help you complete the proper forms, and direct you to other free legal resources. You can also find forms and other information on the D.C. Courts website.
In D.C., the process of filing for divorce is different depending on whether your case is an “uncontested” or “contested” divorce. Your divorce is “uncontested” if both you and your spouse agree to the divorce and are in complete agreement about dividing your marital assets and debts, the custody and support of any children, and whether one spouse will pay alimony to the other. Your divorce is “contested” when you and your spouse can’t agree on any one or all of these issues and want the court to decide, even if you both want to be divorced.
An uncontested divorce is quicker than a contested divorce. If your divorce is uncontested, you can file a "Complaint for Absolute Divorce" at the same time that your spouse files the "Consent Answer." That way, you don’t have to serve your spouse with the paperwork.
For a contested divorce, you must first file a "Complaint for Absolute Divorce." You’ll also need to fill out a "Summons," "Vital Statistics Form," and a "Family Court Cross-Reference Form," and serve your spouse with the papers.
The complaint is the same for an uncontested and contested divorce. In this form, you tell the judge whether you’re seeking division of marital property, child custody, child support, or alimony. If you’re seeking division of marital property, child custody, or child support, you’ll have to complete the relevant forms, called "Attachment A," "Attachment B," and "Attachment C," and attach them to the complaint.
All of the necessary forms are available through the D.C. Bar’s website.
Regardless of whether your divorce is contested or uncontested, you must file all of your paperwork at the D.C. Superior Court in the Family Court Central Intake Center. You will also have to pay a fee at the time of filing. The list of fees is available on the D.C. Courts website.
If you can’t pay the required fee, you can ask for a fee waiver by filing the "Application to Proceed Without Pre-Payment of Costs."
If you have a contested divorce, or you and your spouse didn’t file the complaint and consent answer together, then you’ll need to have your paperwork “served” on, or given to, your spouse. In D.C., you have the option to serve your spouse through “personal service,” “substitute service at home,” or by “certified mail.”
“Personal service” means that an adult, other than you, must personally hand the papers to your spouse. Your spouse can be served anywhere – at home, work, on the street, etc. “Substitute service at home” means that an adult, other than you, must personally hand the papers to another adult who lives in the same home as your spouse. If using “certified mail,” you can mail the papers to your spouse by certified mail, return receipt requested, at the post office.
The person who served your spouse will have to complete an "Affidavit of Service," which is a sworn statement about when and how your spouse was served. You then must file the affidavit at the Family Court Central Intake Center.
If you or your spouse is seeking alimony, you will both have to complete financial statements showing your income and expenses. You will have to swear to the truth of the contents of your financial statement and sign it before a notary. If you and your spouse can’t settle whether or how much alimony will be paid, then the judge will decide for you after a hearing.
Forms, instructions and additional information are available on the D.C. Courts website.