What do I need to know about filing for divorce in D.C.? – Part III
(July 19, 2010): In this series, we introduced some of the basic information you need to know about divorcing in D.C. For this final part, let's discuss whether you are eligible to file for divorce in D.C. and how you know when your divorce is final. To be eligible to file for divorce in D.C., you must meet three requirements: residency, grounds, and proof of marriage. First, to establish residency, either you or your spouse must have lived in D.C. continuously for at least six (6) months before filing a Complaint for Absolute Divorce. Second, since D.C. is a no-fault jurisdiction, there are only two grounds for divorce: Six Months' Mutual and Voluntary Separation: You and your spouse have agreed mutually and voluntarily to separate and have been living apart, without cohabitation (sexual relations), for at least six (6) months before the date you file; or One (1) Year Separation: You and your spouse have been living separate and apart, without cohabitation, for at least one (1) year before filing, whether or not you have agreed to separate. Importantly, you and your spouse can live separate and apart even if you are living in the same house or apartment. The law says you must show that you have shared "neither bed nor board." This means that you had separate bedrooms, and that you do not go out together as a couple, share meals, pay bills jointly, or otherwise act as married. Third, to meet the proof of marriage requirement, 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, with a raised seal, from the state where you were married. If you have a common law marriage, there is no marriage certificate. In that case, the plaintiff must prove the marriage through the testimony of friends and family or through personal records, such as photographs and letters. There is no "common law divorce," meaning that you must dissolve your common law marriage through the courts. When is the divorce final? After the hearing, if the judge grants your divorce, you will get a copy of the divorce order. Your divorce will be final 30 days after the "docketing date," which could be a few days after your hearing, unless you or your spouse takes steps to stay the order or to waive the 30 day waiting period. Either party may file an appeal within those 30 days and also ask that court to delay (or "stay") the divorce order. If the stay is granted, the order becomes final once the appeal is resolved. If the stay is denied, the order is still final after the 30 days. If you both agree that you do not want to appeal the judge's order, you can file a Joint Waiver of Appeal and there will not be a 30 day waiting period. The order will be final immediately.