Significant Changes in District of Columbia Divorce Law

Significant Changes in District of Columbia Divorce Law

Dec 19, 2023

The District of Columbia has been a no-fault jurisdiction for a long time. However, on December 3, 2023, the D.C. City Council enacted D.C. Act 25-322 (originally introduced in 2019 as “Elaine’s Law”), which materially alters the statutory grounds for divorce and amends the factors that a Court may consider when equitably dividing property and/or making an award of alimony.

Currently if a party wishes to file for divorce in the District of Columbia, you must be mutually and voluntarily separated for a period of six months, or you must live separate and apart, without cohabitation, for a period of one year. D.C. Code Section 16-904(a)(1) and (2).

However, commencing January 2024, parties seeking a divorce are no longer required to separate for the respective six months or one year. Rather, “a divorce from the bonds of marriage may be granted upon the assertion by one or both parties that they no longer wish to remain married.” See amended D.C. Code Section 16-904(a). Similarly, a legal separation may be requested based on “at least one party’s assertion that they intend to pursue a separate life without obtaining a divorce.”  See amended D.C. Code Section 16-904(b).

Further, when a Court makes a determination of how marital property should be equitably divided pursuant to divorce, the Court must consider a number of factors as outlined in D.C. Code Section 16-910. Beginning in January 2024, in addition to the twelve (12) factors enumerated in D.C. Code Section 16-910, the Court must also consider “the history of physical, emotional, or financial abuse by one party against the other” as an additional factor. See amended D.C. Code Section 16-910(a)(2)(L).

Similarly, when a Court is asked to award spousal support/alimony, the Court must consider all relevant factors, including, but not limited to, the nine factors currently found in D.C. Code Section 16-913. However, similarly to the Court’s consideration in the division of marital property, commencing in January 2024, the Court will also now consider the history of physical, emotional, or financial abuse by one party against the other” when determining whether to make an award of alimony/spousal support.

Lastly, under current D.C. law, the Court may make temporary orders during the pendency of a matter and while the parties are awaiting trial. See D.C. Code Section 16-911. The statutory amendments expand the temporary relief available to litigants and gives the Court the ability to “award exclusive use of the family home or any other dwelling unit which is available for use as a residence pendente lite to either of the parties as is just, equitable, and reasonable, after consideration of all relevant factors, without regard to the respective interests of the parties in the property.” Thus, the Court could award one party exclusive use and possession of a home even if that home is titled in the other party’s name, pending a divorce hearing, if the Court finds that such an award would be just, equitable, and reasonable given the circumstances.

These changes are significant. If you have any questions regarding D.C. Act 25-322 or are considering a divorce in the District of Columbia, please contact Theresa Mihalik at 703.525.4000 or or one of our other attorneys licensed in the District of Columbia:  Lynn. E. Hawkins, Jill C. Seiferth, Michelle A. Bieber, or Alexandra M. Fletcher.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not contain or convey legal advice. Consult a lawyer. Any views or opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily the views of any client.

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