The very idea of divorce initiates a wide range of emotions from fear, anxiety, anxiousness, anger, and grief. It is an often lengthy process and can be traumatic for many people. Hiring a divorce lawyer early in the process can ease some of these worries and may even help resolve your case quicker.
At C&M Law we offer caring counsel to our clients while providing exceptional negotiation skills and assertive representation.
Divorce in the District of Columbia
Divorce is best understood as a process rather than an event. It takes place in stages, which combined can last anywhere from less than a year to 3 years or more to complete.
At C&M Law we believe the best way to help our clients through this emotional process is by keeping them up to date on information regarding their case, and by making sure they understand the process and know what to expect.
The Stages of a DC Divorce:
Step 1: The Separation Period In DC
DC is a no-fault divorce jurisdiction in which there are only two grounds for divorce
- Six Months Mutual and Voluntary Separation, or
- One Year Involuntary Separation.
In the District of Columbia, parties may file for divorce only after being separated for six months if they agree that they should be divorced. If one person does not want to be divorced, then the separation period must last a year before filing.
You and your spouse's length of separation will be measured by the time that you and your partner have been living apart, without cohabitation (sexual relations).
Step 2: Filing For a DC Divorce
The second step in obtaining a divorce in DC is that you will have to file a Complaint and get proof of your marriage.
To file a divorce complaint in a DC Court you or your spouse must have lived in D.C. continuously for at least six months prior. If you have not then you will not be allowed to file your Complaint in a DC Court.
To meet the proof of marriage requirement, (after all, the Court can't dissolve a marriage if one never existed in the first place) the plaintiff must prove that there is a valid marriage before the court can grant a divorce. The plaintiff must bring an official copy of the marriage certificate: the original or a certified copy, not a photocopy.
After receiving these documents, the Court will give you a status hearing date.
Step 3: The Status Hearing
At the status hearing, you and your spouse will likely be ordered into mediation. Mediation in DC can occur either through Multi-Door (located right by the courthouse), through a mediator from the court-appointed mediator list, or through another privately retained mediator.
The court may issue orders for temporary spousal or child support at the status hearing. The Court will also set another court date for a second status hearing.
While there are various things the Court can do at a status hearing, it is not a trial.
Step 4: Divorce Mediation in DC
At mediation, you will try to come to an agreement with your ex regarding whatever issues remain to be resolved. This can involve personal property, real property, custody, visitation, retirement, and any other issue that the parties need to determine.
A mediator will assist the parties in keeping the meeting civil and moving forward. A mediator is not either person's lawyer. A mediator is a neutral third party that attempts to help all parties reach an agreement. The mediator does not report to the Court what happens in mediation.
If the parties are unable to work out the issues, the matter proceeds in preparation for trial.
Step 5: Divorce Trial in DC
During trial preparations parties may issue discovery, file motions, and have depositions. Depositions are merely a tool to get a person's testimony prior to trial.
At trial, the plaintiff (the person who filed the complaint) goes first. Both parties are able to present their cases. The judge may issue a decision then, or take the matter under advisement.
A final Divorce Decree in DC is rather lengthy. In it the judge will write a summary of the testimony and evidence that was presented throughout the divorce proceedings as well as his rulings on all necessary matters, such as the granting of a divorce, distribution of marital property, alimony, custody, child support, retirement benefits, etc.
Step 6: DC Divorce Appeals and Stays
After the Court enters the final divorce order on the docket (gets the Court's copy of the final order stamped by the clerk's office), you have 30 days within which you may file an appeal and/or motion to stay the divorce order. Both parties can waive this time period in writing in which case you will be considered divorced immediately.
Filing an appeal alone will NOT prevent the order from going into effect. After the 30 days you will still be considered divorced and subject to all of the Court's rulings within the order.
The only way to prevent a final divorce order from going into effect is to request the Court issue a stay. To make this request you must file a motion for a stay with the judge that issued the final divorce decree, and you must have a reason for requesting it. The judge will then decide whether to issue the stay or deny it.
If the request for a stay is denied, then the final order will go into effect and your divorce decree will be considered finalized 30 days after the final order was docketed by the court even if an appeal has been noted. Noting an appeal will NOT stop a divorce decree from becoming final unless it is also accompanied by a motion to stay that has been granted.
Step 7: What If My Official Date of Divorce?
Once a divorce decree becomes finalized your official date of divorce will be the date the judge signed the final order.
DC Divorce Help
Divorces are generally draining both emotionally and financially. Your representation through this process should be impeccable and thorough so that you may preserve what is legally yours financially, and be awarded both the legal and physical custody over your children that you deserve.
Don't let your questions and fears keep you up at night any longer. Get the answers you need in a free confidential consultation with one of our experienced DC Divorce Lawyers.