How to File for Divorce in Washington, DC

by Bernadette A. Safrath

Spouses in Washington, D.C. can file for divorce if they follow the procedures set forth in Washington, D.C.'s Official Code. The law outlines who is eligible for a divorce in the district, addresses what papers need to be filed in order to start the process and sets forth what court has jurisdiction over the proceeding.

Residency Requirements

A spouse filing for divorce must meet the district's residency requirement. This is because a local court will not have jurisdiction -- that is, will not have the right to hear your case -- unless at least one of the parties is a local resident. In Washington, D.C., at least one spouse must have maintained a permanent residence in the district for no less than six months prior to filing.

Document Requirements

A spouse must file a Complaint for Divorce to begin the divorce process. The complaint must be filed in the Family Division of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. A Final Divorce Decree must also be filed at that time, which the court will sign at the conclusion of the proceedings. The complaint must be served on the opposing spouse, which can be done by anyone over the age of 18 who is not the filing spouse. Service provides notice of the pending divorce action.

Grounds for Divorce

The complaint must state the grounds for divorce. Washington, D.C. only recognizes no-fault divorce. Fault grounds, such as abuse or adultery, are not an option. The complaint for divorce must include one of two accepted no-fault grounds, both of which are related to living apart. One way for spouses to meet the requirement is if they have maintained a "mutual voluntary separation" for six months prior to one spouse's filing. If the separation is not mutual, meaning that one party has left the marital residence without the other spouse's consent, they must meet the standard of "living separate and apart" for a period of one year before filing.

Property Settlement

If the spouses agree to a property settlement, it must be submitted to the court during the divorce proceeding. When spouses are unable to agree, the court must divide the couple's marital property. Washington, D.C. uses "equitable distribution" to divide all marital property. This means the spouses are each entitled to maintain ownership of their separate property, which is generally anything they owned prior to the marriage and any inheritance received during the marriage. The remaining property -- known as marital property -- is divided fairly, but not necessarily equally. When distributing assets, the court considers the spouses' ages, any health conditions, length of the marriage, value of each spouse's separate property, each spouse's income, and whether any alimony will be paid.