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Child Custody in DC


The only way to retain control over the outcome of the final custody order is by negotiating an agreement with your child's other parent. If no agreement can be reached then the judge hearing your case will make these decisions for you. While in some high conflict cases where one or both parties refuse to compromise this is inevitable, it is generally preferred to make these decisions yourself. 

Different Types of Custody in DC

There are many types of custody arrangements. Several are outlined below:

  • Physical Custody means that a parent has the right to have the child live with him / her. When one parent has physical custody, the child(ren) will live primarily with that parent, while the other parent will have visitation rights. Sometimes the husband and wife share physical custody. 
  • Legal Custody means that a parent has the right and obligation to make major decisions regarding the child. This may include decisions regarding health, education, religion, and extracurricular activities, among many others.

Sometimes parents share legal custody. This means that they share the decision-making process concerning the child and must reach an agreement on all important issues. Often, especially in high conflict situations, the court will give one parent final decision making authority if the two can not reach an agreement.

  • Sole Custody can apply to both physical custody, legal custody, or both. If a parent has sole physical custody over a child the child resides full time with that parent and the other parent normally has visitation rights.

In D.C., when one parent has less than or equal to 128 overnights with the child(ren), or less than 35% of the total time with the children, then the other parent is considered to have sole custody. A determination of sole custody becomes very important when child support calculations are made

  • Joint Custody can vary from case to case. The parents can share legal custody, physical custody or both. If the parties share physical custody, they must work out an appropriate schedule that meets their needs and the needs of the child(ren).

For a custody arrangement to qualify as joint custody D.C. requires that each parent have more than 128 overnights with the child(ren), or 35% or more of the time per year. Child support calculations are normally lower for joint custody situations, so this is an important number to keep in mind when negotiating a custody agreement.

How Does a DC Court Decide Custody?

How does a father or mother prove to a judge that the child(ren) should live in a certain home?  DC takes an exhaustive approach to determining what is in the best interests of a child. The Court will look at the following factors under DC Code Section 16-914:

  1. The wishes of the child as to his or her custodian, where practicable;
  2. The wishes of the child's parent or parents as to the child's custody;
  3. The interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parent or parents, his or her siblings, and any other person who may emotionally or psychologically affect the child's best interest;
  4. The child's adjustment to his or her home, school, and community;
  5. The mental and physical health of all individuals involved;
  6. Evidence of an intrafamily offense as defined in section 16-1001(5) [now § 16-1001(8)];
  7. The capacity of the parents to communicate and reach shared decisions affecting the child's welfare;
  8. The willingness of the parents to share custody;
  9. The prior involvement of each parent in the child's life;
  10. The potential disruption of the child's social and school life;
  11. The geographic proximity of the parental homes as this relates to the practical considerations of the child's residential schedule;
  12. The demands of parental employment;
  13. The age and number of children;
  14. The sincerity of each parent's request;
  15. The parent's ability to financially support a joint custody arrangement;
  16. The impact on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or Program on Work, Employment, and Responsibilities, and medical assistance; and
  17. The benefit to the parents.

(Note that the District of Columbia does not require parents who have been abused to co-parent with their abuser if it makes certain findings of fact.)

Preparing for A Custody Hearing in DC 

When preparing a custody case, the Court will look at the child's mental, physical, and academic status at the time of the hearing.  Is the child doing well in school? Is the child attached to one parent more than the other? What is the child's schedule? How long have the parties been separated, and what has the visitation pattern been? 

Each party should think holistically about their case and prepare to address all factors. There are some cases that hinge on one factor or another, but most parties should be prepared to address all of the issues that arise under the statute.  Contacting an attorney can help you clarify how your case should be prepared in order to win at the hearing. Call Now to schedule a free confidential consultation, where you will sit down with a lawyer and begin planning a strategy to fit the needs of your unique situation.


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