Grounds for Divorce and Legal Separation in the District of Columbia

On January 26, 2024, a new law went into effect governing divorce and legal separation in Washington, DC.  Known as the “Grounds for Divorce, Legal Separation, and Annulment Amendment Act of 2023”, the law made significant changes to the waiting periods to file for divorce or legal separation, the factors to be considered for alimony, how marital property is divided and the

Elimination of the Waiting Periods to file for Divorce or Legal Separation  

Under this new law, married couples no longer have to live apart for any specific amount of time before they can file for divorce and legal separation.

Previously, you had to wait up to one year before filing for a divorce in the District of Columbia (six months if both spouses agreed, one year if one spouse did not agree).  With the change, you can now file for divorce immediately.  The new law simply requires one or both spouses to “assert that they no longer wish to be married.”

The court can also grant a legal separation if one or both people say they want to live separate lives without getting a divorce. Previously, either both parties had to agree or one party had to wait a year before filing for a legal separation.  

The statute addressing grounds for divorce and legal separation in the District of Columbia can be found here.

Changes to Granting Alimony, Dividing Marital Property and Granting Exclusive Use and Possession of the Marital Home

The new law changes how the court decides whether to grant alimony (financial support from one person to the other after a divorce) and how to split up marital property (this is called equitable distribution). The Court is now required to consider any “history of physical, emotional, or financial abuse by one party against the other” when making these decisions. You can see the amended equitable distribution statute here and the amended alimony statute here This is a significant change.  Previously, the court only had to consider whether there was a legal finding of “intrafamily offense.”  

The new law allows the court to give one spouse exclusive use and possession of the marital home while the divorce case is going on, even if that person’s name is not on the title. This is a special form of pendente lite relief (relief granted while litigation is pending).  See new the pendente lite relief statute here.

While the new law has brought some welcome changes, it is important to fully understand the legal requirements for a divorce or legal separation.  It is also important to make sure that any decisions you make about property distribution, alimony and exclusive use and possession of the marital home can be properly enforced.  You and your spouse may be able to settle many of the issues on your own.  If you can agree, it is wise to have the agreement reduced to a written settlement agreement.  If you and your spouse cannot agree, a skilled in Washington, DC divorce lawyer can help negotiate a fair settlement or advocate for a just decision by the judge.

Speak to an experienced Washington, DC Divorce Lawyer to learn more.

At Bourdon & Tortolero, we know that every divorce can be stressful. Trying to do it yourself can create extra stress, unnecessarily delay the process and be more expensive in the long run. An experienced Washington, DC divorce lawyer can guide you through the process, protect your interests and help you achieve the best possible outcome. If you are ready to get started or would like to get more information about a divorce in the District of Columbia, contact us here or call us at (703) 440-7820to schedule an initial consultation with an experienced Washington, DC divorce attorney.

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