Uncontested Divorce in Washington, D.C.

Learn how you can get a quick and easy uncontested divorce in the District of Columbia.

By , Retired Judge

There are generally two types of divorce available in most states: contested and uncontested. In a contested divorce, the spouses don't agree on some or all issues involved in ending their marriage. Even if they ultimately manage to settle their disputes before going to trial, the process (including discovery and interim court hearings) can take quite a while and be expensive.

In an uncontested divorce, the spouses have already agreed on all of the issues by the time they file for divorce. This makes the entire process much faster and cheaper than traditional divorce—mostly because many couples can get an uncontested divorce without hiring lawyers. They also have the option of filing for divorce online, using a low-cost service that help with the paperwork

How to Qualify for an Uncontested Divorce in D.C.

First, you'll need to meet the basic requirements for all divorces in D.C.:

  • Residency. One of the spouses must have been bona fide D.C. resident for a least six months just before starting the divorce action. (D.C. Code § 16–902 (2024).)
  • Grounds. You must have a legally accepted reason ("ground") for the divorce. But in D.C., the only ground for divorce is that at least one spouse no longer wants to stay married. The District no longer requires a period of separation before couples can start the divorce process. (D.C. Code § 16–904 (2024).)

In addition, you and your spouse must agree about all of the issues in your divorce before you file for an uncontested divorce. Those issues include:

How to File for an Uncontested Divorce in Washington, D.C.

To start an uncontested divorce, you'll follow the same basic steps involved in filing for divorce in Washington, D.C., with some variations.

  • One of you will start the process by completing the complaint (checking the appropriate boxes indicating that you have an agreement about various issues) and filing it with the court, along with various other routine forms. You can find forms, instructions, and other information on the D.C. Courts website and LawHelp.org/DC.
  • Because the two of you will be cooperating in the process, the spouse who files the complaint (the "plaintiff") may simply deliver the paperwork to the other spouse (the "defendant") by mail, along with a form for acknowledging that it was received. In D.C., you also have the option of serving the divorce papers electronically (such as by email, text, or social media), as long as there's a way of ensuring that the defendant actually received the documents. (D.C. Super. Ct. Rules, Fam. Div., rule 4 (2024).)
  • The defendant will then file a "Consent Answer," agreeing with everything in the complaint.
  • Once that's done, both of you may request a hearing date by signing and submitting a form called a "Joint Request For Uncontested Divorce Hearing."

Consider a Written Divorce Settlement Agreement

Although you and your spouse can enter into an oral agreement resolving your marital issues, you should consider putting the details in a written divorce settlement agreement (sometimes referred to as a "property settlement agreement" or a "marital settlement agreement").

In your initial divorce papers, you may ask the court to have the agreement made part of your divorce decree. That way, if either of you renege on any part of the agreement, the other one may ask a judge to enforce it just like any other court order—typically by finding the offending spouse in contempt of court.

If you have young children, or if there's a significant financial component to your agreement, consider working with a divorce service, attorney, or qualified mediator to help you negotiate and prepare the agreement. Some of the more reputable online divorce services will also walk you through preparing the agreement by having you answer specific questions that should be included.

The more detailed the agreement, the better, because it reduces the likelihood of conflict down the road. This can ultimately save you time, money, and hassle. Even if you haven't had a lawyer prepare the agreement, each of you may want to have an attorney review it to make sure that you haven't left out anything important or unwittingly given up your legal rights.

Attend Your Hearing

Washington, D.C. does require a hearing before the judge will issue an uncontested divorce. Usually, only the plaintiff spouse needs to attend. But if the defendant spouse is the only one who's been a resident of Washington, D.C. for the required six months, that spouse might need to attend the hearing to confirm residency.

Try to get to court early, to familiarize yourself with your surroundings and check in with the court personnel.

Uncontested divorce hearings are usually brief. If you haven't already submitted it, be sure to bring your written settlement agreement for the judge to review. The judge will likely ask you a few questions, just to confirm you understand the agreement and have met all the requirements for finalizing the divorce.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Uncontested Divorce in D.C.?

As long as you've filed all of the right paperwork, it can take a few weeks to get your hearing date scheduled. The exact amount of time it take could depend on any backlogs in the court.

Once you've had the hearing, the divorce usually doesn't become final until 30 days after the court stamps the divorce order as "entered on docket" (usually within a few days after the hearing). That's because the law gives you 30 days to appeal the order. But with an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse may avoid this mandatory waiting period by filing a "Joint Waiver of Appeal of Divorce Order/Judgment," which asks the court to finalize the divorce immediately.