Child support. Divorce. Child support. Father’s rights. These are just a few of the family law issues that you might face in Washington D.C. family court. We know how stressful and painful these situations can be. This is why it is important to educate yourself and gain an understanding of the laws that will affect your D.C. family law case so that you can make the right decision. Our primer, below, aims to help make sense of the laws so you can apply them to your particular situation. The next step is speaking with a Washington D.C. family law expert for more guidance. The good news is that we can connect you – for free – to a local Washington D.C. attorney or professional who can help. But first, learn about the law.
Washington D.C. Divorce
Going through a divorce is difficult, and the process can be made more difficult by the fact that each state follows its own set of laws. The same holds true for the District of Columbia as well. Child support, child custody, alimony and property division are all Washington D.C. family law matters that must be resolved as part of a divorce proceeding. None of these issues are simple or cut and dry – they all require some serious thought and research into what is the best decision for you and your family. The steps can be challenging to navigate, so let’s break it down for you
Grounds for Divorce in Washington D.C.
Washington D.C. is what is known as a “no-fault” divorce jurisdiction. This means that you do not need to prove wrongdoing on another spouse’s part to request a divorce. Grounds for a divorce that people normally think of would include adultery, abandonment, or already having been married. In Washington D.C., couples can obtain a divorce for any reason, they must simply demonstrate that they have mutually and voluntarily lived separate and apart for 6 months, or alternatively, the couple can obtain a divorce if they are living together but have not shared “bed or board” for more than a year. No fault divorces save people time, money, and heartache.
Residency Requirement and Time Frames
Washington D.C. law dictates that you must have been a resident for at least the last 30-days after filing your Petition for dissolution of Marriage. You also must be a resident of the District for 6-months prior to filing your Petition as well. If you move out of D.C. after this time period, the divorce can still take place here.
Property Division in a D.C. Divorce
Washington D.C. follows the standard rule of an “equitable distribution” of property when deciding who gets what property after a divorce. This means that a judge will determine what he or she believes is fair under the circumstances, not necessarily what would be an even 50/50 split of property or debt. Factors that are considered here include each spouse’s future earning capacity, disability, age, educational level, and many other factors. It is possible that, for example, a stay at home parent be awarded a larger share of the joint bank account and the marital home to continue raising the children in since his or her earning capacity is less than the employed spouse. These are very similar to the factors that go into deciding whether an Alimony award should be granted to one of the spouses as well.
Washington D.C. Child Support
Your child is important to you, and it is important that you make sure to provide for your child financially as he or she grows up. Providing financial support for your child helps your child grow up feeling loved and cared for, while providing the funding to support a lifestyle that your child has become accustomed to as well as what he or she deserves. When child support determinations are made in Washington D.C., the court follows guidelines found here set forth in the laws of the District. Washington D.C. follows what is known as the “income shares” model to determine child support.
As a general principle, child support under the income shares model is based on a schedule for the parents combined income, and is then apportioned to each parent based on the percentage they contribute to the combined total. However, there are many layers of complexity as to what is considered income under the guidelines. Keep in mind that child support in D.C. likely will allow for the payment of medical insurance and out of pocket medical costs as well that are in addition to child support payments.
Washington D.C. Child Custody
Child custody is a serious matter in Washington D.C. (it is everywhere, actually), and the courts focus on what outcome of the custody proceedings would be in the best interests of the child. This “best interests of the child” standard issued in all 50-states, however, the elements that apply differ slightly from state to state. This means that the Washington D.C. court weighs a plurality of factors when making decisions regarding the custody of the child. This is the case whether the parties are divorcing or were never married (called a paternity case).
Some factors D.C. family courts will look at include the wishes of the parents and the child (if the child is older than 12 and able to make such a decision), the child’s relationship with each parent and his or her siblings and other members of the family, whether the custody decision will require the child to make adjustments in his or her life such as changing schools or moving into a new living arrangement, how close the parents live to one another, both parents’ ability to communicate with one another regarding the child, how demanding each parent’s work schedule is, and the mental and physical health of each parent and the child. This list of factors is not exhaustive, but points out some of the main factors that courts take into account when making a custody decision based on the best interests of the child standard in Washington D.C.
Parents in Washington D.C. are encouraged to submit to the court a detailed parenting plan, which lays out how certain issues pertaining to the child will be handled, such as how the child will be educated, what the precise visitation schedule will be (which parent gets weekends, holidays, birthdays, etc.), and how the child will be religiously educated. When developing a child custody parenting plan, it is important to take into consideration factors that may not make you, as a parent, happy all the time. Just because you may think you are a better parent and your child should be with you all the time, does not mean that being alienated from the other parent will not have an extremely negative impact on your child. For this reason, it is best to compromise whenever possible and save the fights for truly important things only.
Washington D.C. Father’s Rights
In Washington D.C. fathers have just as much of a right to raise their children as the mother of the child does. This is no longer the 1950’s where a mother is automatically deemed the better parent. But that does not necessarily mean that your father’s rights are automatic. In situations where the child was born to unwed parents, you will need to prove that you are the legal father of the child before you can exercise your father’s rights. And whether married or unmarried, there are lot of things you should do to put your best foot forward in the eyes of the court.
Father’s that want to obtain the rights they deserve need to be vigilant about taking notes and keeping a journal of their involvement with their children. This means a daily journal of what they feed the kids, who picks the kids up from school/daycare, who pays for daycare and other activities, flexibility of work schedule, which parent puts the kids to bed or takes the child to doctor appointments. These are just a few of things that fathers need to be involved with on a regular basis if they want a snowballs chance of winning custody or getting their Washington D.C. fathers’ rights. It also involves not falling into the pitfalls and traps that many dads make that ruin their case.
What is the Next Step?
Keep on getting educated on the law so you know how to prepare for your case. Then contact a local expert. We can help you do that by connecting you – for free – to a local Washington D.C. family law attorney or professional who can let you know what your rights are. You cannot wait for things to fall into your lap, save our money and get started right away so you do not lose your rights.