How Long Does It Take to Get Divorced in Washington, D.C.? A Guide to the Divorce Process

✚ How long does it take to GET DIVORCED in Washington D.C.? | Lopez Law
Last Updated on February 13, 2024 by Carlos Lopez

Divorce can be a difficult and emotional process, and understanding the timeline for divorce in Washington, D.C. , is important. 

The time it takes to get divorced varies depending on whether the divorce is contested or uncontested. 

In this long guide, we will discuss the requirements for filing for divorce in Washington, D.C., the divorce process timeline, property division, child custody and support, and legal assistance available.

Requirements for Filing for Divorce in Washington, D.C.

When considering a divorce in Washington, D.C., there are certain legal requirements that must be met before the process can begin. 

The following sections outline the residency requirement and the grounds for divorce.

Residency Requirement

At least one spouse must have been a resident of Washington, D.C., for at least six months before filing for divorce. 

The residency requirement must be met before the divorce case can be filed.

Grounds for Divorce

Washington, D.C., is a no-fault jurisdiction, meaning that there are only two grounds for divorce:

  • Voluntary separation for six months: Both spouses have been living apart for at least six months and have no intention of reconciling.
  • Living separately for one year: Both spouses have been living apart for at least one year without cohabitation.

It’s important to note that fault-based grounds, such as adultery or cruelty, are not recognized in Washington, D.C.

Filing for Divorce in Washington, D.C.

This procedure requires certain steps that must be followed. Here, I will explain these steps in detail.

Initiating the Divorce Case

The first step in filing for divorce in Washington, D.C., is to initiate a divorce case. This is done by filing a complaint for absolute divorce with the Central Intake Center

The spouse applying for divorce must fully complete and sign the Complaint for Absolute Divorce. (Download PDF Document)

In this document, the spouse filing for divorce must provide information about the marriage and specify the reason for filing for divorce

The filing spouse must also state whether or not they are seeking any specific relief, such as child custody or alimony.

Serving the Complaint and the Answer

Once the complaint for absolute divorce has been filed, it must be served on the other spouse. 

This is typically done by a process server. 

The other spouse then has 20 days to file an answer to the complaint for absolute divorce.

If the other spouse fails to file an answer within the allotted time, the divorce may proceed by default without the other spouse’s participation.

  • Important information to remember:The filing fee for a complaint for absolute divorce in Washington, D.C., is $80 as of 2023.
  • If you are unsure about navigating the divorce process, it may be helpful to consult an experienced divorce attorney who can guide you through the process and ensure that you meet all the legal requirements.

Contested and Uncontested Divorce

When filing for divorce in Washington, D.C., it is important to understand the difference between contested and uncontested divorces

A contested divorce occurs when the spouses are unable to agree on the terms of their separation and require the intervention of the court to make decisions for them. 

An uncontested divorce, on the other hand, is where the spouses are able to agree on all aspects of the divorce, including property division, child custody, and spousal support.

What is a contested divorce?

In a contested divorce, the spouses may be unable to agree on important aspects of their separation, including child custody, spousal support, and property division. 

This can lead to lengthy and expensive court proceedings and may require the intervention of a judge to make decisions. 

Contested divorce cases may require mediation, negotiations, or litigation in court.


  • Mediation involves the use of a neutral third-party mediator who works with the spouses to facilitate an agreement. The mediator does not make decisions for the spouses but helps them negotiate and reach a mutually acceptable solution.


  • Spouses may choose to negotiate directly with each other or with the help of their attorneys to come to an agreement on the terms of their separation. Negotiations can often resolve disputed issues and avoid the need for a court trial.


  • If the spouses are unable to reach a mutually acceptable solution, their case may proceed to a court trial, where a judge will make decisions on issues that are in dispute. Litigation can be a lengthy and costly process and may require the assistance of an experienced attorney.

What is an Uncontested Divorce?

In an uncontested divorce, the spouses are able to agree on all aspects of their separation, and there are no disputed issues to be resolved in court. 

This can significantly reduce the time and cost involved in obtaining a divorce in Washington, D.C. 

In an uncontested divorce, the spouses can submit a written agreement addressing all the issues of their separation, which allows them to finalize their divorce more quickly.

If you are going through a divorce in Washington, D.C., it is important to consult with a knowledgeable attorney to understand your options and to help you achieve a timely and favorable resolution to your case.

Divorce Process Timeline in Washington, D.C.

Timeline for an Uncontested Divorce

An uncontested divorce in Washington, D.C., is generally a faster process than a contested divorce. 

The timeline for an uncontested divorce is as follows:

  • Step 1. Initial Filing: This step involves completing the required paperwork and submitting it to the Central Intake Center. This can be done with the help of a lawyer or pro se, meaning on your own.
  • Step 2. Waiting Period: After submitting the paperwork, there is a 30-day waiting period before the final hearing can take place.
  • Step 3. Final Hearing: At the final hearing, both spouses will attend court to finalize the divorce. If the judge approves the settlement agreement, the divorce is final at the close of the hearing.

Overall, an uncontested divorce in Washington, D.C., can take as little as two to three months, depending on how quickly the paperwork is filed and the hearing is scheduled.

Timeline for a Contested Divorce

A contested divorce in Washington, D.C., can take significantly longer than an uncontested divorce, and the timeline will depend on the specifics of each case. 

Here is a general timeline for a contested divorce:

  • Step 1. Filing the Complaint: The plaintiff will file a Complaint for Absolute Divorce, which must be served on the defendant within 90 days of filing.
  • Step 2. Response: The defendant has 20 days to file a response to the complaint for absolute divorce. If the defendant does not respond, the plaintiff can file a default and proceed without the defendant’s participation.
  • Step 3. Temporary Orders: If there are issues such as child custody, child support, or spousal support that need to be addressed during the divorce process, temporary orders may be issued to cover these issues until the final hearing.
  • Step 4. Discovery: Each spouse will typically gather information about the other’s finances, assets, and other relevant information in the discovery process.
  • Step 5. Settlement Negotiations: The spouses may negotiate a settlement agreement with the help of their attorneys, which can help speed up the divorce process.
  • Step 6. Trial: If the spouses are unable to reach a settlement agreement, the case may proceed to trial, which can take several months or longer.
  • Step 7. Final Hearing: Once all issues have been resolved or decided upon by the court, a final hearing will be scheduled to finalize the divorce.

The timeline for a contested divorce in Washington, D.C., can vary greatly depending on the complexity of the case, the number of contested issues, and how quickly the discovery process and settlement negotiations are completed. 

In general, a contested divorce in Washington, D.C., can take 18 months or longer to be finalized.

Property Division in Divorce

When a marriage ends in divorce, the court will divide the property and assets acquired during the marriage. 

Property division in Washington, D.C., is based on the principle of equitable distribution, which means that property is divided fairly but not necessarily equally.

Marital Property vs. Separate Property

Before dividing property, the court needs to determine what property is considered marital property and what is separate property. 

Marital property includes all property acquired during the marriage, regardless of whose name is on the title. 

Separate property includes property acquired before the marriage, property acquired after the date of separation, gifts, and inheritances received by one spouse during the marriage and kept separate from marital property. In general, separate property is not subject to division in divorce.

Division of Marital Property

The court considers various factors when dividing marital property, such as the length of the marriage, each spouse’s contribution to the marriage, the spouses’ ages and health, and the spouses’ incomes and earning potential. 

The court will divide marital property in a way that is fair and reasonable based on these factors. 

This may result in a fifty-fifty split of property, or one spouse may receive more property than the other.

Property Settlement Agreement

It is possible for the spouses to agree on the division of property and submit a property settlement agreement to the court. 

This agreement should include a list of all marital property and how it will be divided. 

The court will review and approve the agreement if it is fair and reasonable for both parties. 

A property settlement agreement can save time and money compared to a court-ordered division of property.

Child Custody and Support in Divorce

When a couple with children decides to get divorced, child custody and support become essential issues to be addressed. 

In Washington, D.C., courts encourage parents to work together in the best interests of their children, but if they can’t reach an agreement, a family court judge will decide the arrangements.

Child Custody

In Washington, D.C., child custody is determined based on the best interests of the child

Parents can agree on a custody arrangement, or a judge will make a decision based on the child’s needs and the parents’ ability to meet those needs. 

The custody options available are:

  • Joint legal custody: both parents have the right to make decisions about the child’s upbringing.
  • Sole legal custody: one parent has the right to make decisions about the child’s upbringing.
  • Joint physical custody: the child spends significant time with both parents.
  • Sole physical custody: the child lives with one parent most of the time.

It’s worth noting that custody can be modified if there’s a significant change in circumstances, such as a parent moving to another state or a change in the child’s needs.

Child Support

Washington, D.C., follows a specific formula to determine child support, taking into consideration factors such as the income of both parents, the number of children involved, and any medical or educational needs of the child. 

A non-custodial parent is typically required to pay child support to the custodial parent, which is calculated as a percentage of their income.

Spousal Support or Alimony

Spousal support, also known as alimony, is financial support paid by one spouse to the other after a divorce. 

It’s important to note that not all divorces involve spousal support, and whether it’s awarded or not depends on several factors, such as the length of the marriage, the income and earning capacity of both parties, and any contributions made by one spouse to the other’s education or career.

Working with an experienced divorce lawyer can help ensure that your rights and the best interests of your child are protected throughout the divorce process. 

If you need assistance with child custody or support, contact a Washington, D.C., family law attorney today.

Finalizing the Divorce

Finalizing a divorce in Washington, D.C., involves attending a final hearing and obtaining a final divorce order. 

These are the steps to follow:

Final Hearing

The final hearing is a court appearance where the plaintiff must appear before the judge and provide testimony. 

During the hearing, the judge will ask questions to ensure that both parties agree on the terms of the divorce

If there are any outstanding issues, the judge may require the parties to return to court at a later date to resolve them.

Final Divorce Order

After the final hearing, the judge will issue a final divorce order, which finalizes the divorce. 

It is important to note that the final divorce order is not effective immediately. Instead, there is a waiting period of 30 days after the final divorce order is stamped by the court. 

This means that the divorce will not be final until 30 days after the hearing.

During this time, either party may file an appeal, which will further delay the finalization of the divorce

Once the waiting period is over, the divorce is considered final, and both parties can begin living their separate lives.

Getting a divorce can be a complicated and stressful process, but legal assistance is available to help those going through it ensure that their rights are protected and navigate the process smoothly. 

In Washington, D.C., there are a range of legal options available for those seeking assistance with their divorce, whether they choose to represent themselves or hire a lawyer.

Self-Representation Assistance

If someone wants to represent themselves in their divorce case, they can seek assistance from the court’s self-help center or use free online resources to prepare their legal documents. 

The District of Columbia Courts website provides a range of online resources and forms that can be helpful for those who want to represent themselves.

It is important to keep in mind that self-representation may not be the best choice for everyone, especially in more complicated cases. In addition, self-represented individuals must follow the same legal procedures and requirements as those who have legal representation. 

A knowledgeable lawyer can provide invaluable advice and guidance to help navigate the complex legal process.

For those who want to have legal representation during their divorce, there are many options available. 

Hiring a lawyer can be expensive, but it can also be helpful in ensuring that legal rights are protected and interests are represented during the divorce process.

When choosing a lawyer, it is important to find someone who is experienced in family law and has a good understanding of the divorce process in Washington, D.C. It is also important to ask about the lawyer’s fees and make sure that they are affordable and reasonable.

There are also legal aid organizations that offer free or low-cost legal assistance to those who qualify. 

These organizations can be a great resource for those who are unable to afford a private attorney and need legal assistance.

  • The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia: This organization provides free legal assistance to low-income residents of Washington, D.C., in a variety of legal areas, including family law.
  • Bread for the City Legal Clinic: This organization provides free legal assistance to low-income residents of Washington, D.C., for a variety of legal issues, including divorce and other family law matters.
  • DC Bar Pro Bono Center: This organization connects eligible clients with volunteer lawyers who provide free legal services in a variety of legal areas, including family law.

In conclusion, choosing the right legal assistance for a divorce can be challenging, but there are many options available in Washington, D.C., like Lopez Law Firm PLLC.

Whether someone chooses to represent themselves or hire a lawyer, seeking legal assistance can help ensure that their legal rights are protected and their interests are represented throughout the divorce process.


  1. Pablo says:

    Wow, cant believe it takes longer to divorce in D.C. than to plan a wedding! 🤷‍♀️

    • Ryann says:

      Well, maybe if people put as much effort into their marriages as they do into their weddings, divorce wouldnt take so long. Just saying. 🤷‍♂️

  2. Aspyn Rose says:

    Wow, who knew getting divorced in D.C. could be such a lengthy process? Is it really worth it?

    • Yareli says:

      Well, getting divorced anywhere is rarely a walk in the park, my friend. But when it comes to D.C., the process can certainly test your patience. Is it worth it? Thats for you to decide based on your own circumstances and priorities. Good luck!

  3. Alessandro Mcclain says:

    Wow, who knew getting a divorce in Washington, D.C. could be such a lengthy process?!

    • Sloan Duffy says:

      Actually, anyone whos been through a divorce in Washington, D.C. can tell you its no walk in the park. The legal system takes its time to ensure fairness and thoroughness. Its important to prioritize the well-being of all parties involved, rather than rushing through such a life-altering process.

  4. Lara says:

    Wow, who knew getting divorced in D.C. was such a paperwork marathon? 📝💔

  5. Cayden says:

    Wow, who knew getting divorced in Washington, D.C. was such a complicated process? So glad Im happily single!

  6. Sawyer Branch says:

    Wow, I never knew getting divorced in Washington, D.C. could be such a process!

    • Eliam Greene says:

      Oh, believe me, getting divorced anywhere is a pain. But D.C. takes it to a whole new level. The paperwork, the waiting, the endless negotiations – its a nightmare. Trust me, Ive been there.

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