District of Columbia Uncontested Divorce
This information is an overview of the uncontested Washington D.C. divorce filing process and a summary of the divorce papers that are typically filed with the family law or domestic relations clerk. This overview is not intended to be an exact step-by-step guide for those "do it yourself divorce" filers, due to the fact that many cases are unique and the overview presented here is often not the only method of obtaining an uncontested divorce in Washington D.C.
In order to file for divorce in Washington, D.C., a person must be a resident of the district for six months before filing. Military personnel stationed in the district are residents if they have lived there for six months.
The District of Columbia is a no-fault jurisdiction. Grounds for an absolute divorce are 1) a six-month mutual voluntary separation and 2) living separate and apart without cohabitation for a year. ("Living separate and apart" may happen under one roof if the spouses do not share a bed or meals.)
Grounds for a legal separation are 1) mutual and voluntary separation, 2) separation for a year, 3) adultery and 4) cruelty.
In divorce actions, the person filing is called the Plaintiff; the spouse responding is called the Defendant. Actions are filed in the Superior Court-Family Division.
The required forms to file for a divorce in the District are organized in packets A through G, depending on the situation of the party. The clerk in the Family Law division of the Superior Court provides the appropriate packet upon request. Each packet includes many of the same forms.
Every divorce action begins with the filing of a Complaint for Absolute Divorce, which identifies the parties, the grounds and the relief desired.
The Complaint is filed with DC Vital Statistics (Form 4), which records the action for statistical records.
A copy of the Complaint and a Summons must be served on the Defendant. This may be accomplished in one of three ways:
> certified mail, return receipt requested;
Anyone over the age of 18 except the Plaintiff may hand deliver the divorce papers to the Defendant or to his or her residence. The Summons must be delivered within twenty days of its date of issuance.
If the process is served by certified mail, the Plaintiff must file an Affidavit of Service by Certified Mail and attach the return receipt to the bottom of the affidavit. If the process is served by a process server or private individual, he or she completes the legal copy of the Summons and it is filed with the clerk. Either of the steps prove that the Defendant is properly served.
If the Defendant does not file an Answer within 20 days of the date of service, he or she is in default. In the Answer, the Defendant may agree to the allegations in the Complaint or dispute them.
If the Defendant cannot or will not be located to accept service, the Plaintiff must prepare a Motion to Allow Service by Publication, together with Points and Authorities and an Affidavit of Service by Certified Mail. The affidavit states the Plaintiffís belief that the spouse has lived outside of Washington D.C. for the last six months and describes his or her efforts at making a diligent search to locate him or her. An Order Publication-Absent Spouse is filed with the Affidavit of Service, and service by publication in a newspaper is thereafter ordered by the court. If this fails to produce a response from the Defendant, the action proceeds as a default.
When the spouses agree to an uncontested divorce -- that is, when both parties have a comprehensive separation agreement signed by each of them -- it is possible to get a divorce in the District of Columbia in three to six weeks.
In an uncontested divorce, the Plaintiff files Complaint and Separation Agreement as well as
> The vital records form;
Later the Plaintiff files a Praecipe for an Uncontested Divorce, which moves the case toward a hearing.
Usually commissioners preside over uncontested divorces in the district. At or before the hearing, both spouses must sign a Consent Form, which certifies that both spouses agree to the action. The commissionerís Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgment for Absolute Divorce become the basis for the Decree of Divorce.
Failure to answer the Complaint means that the Plaintiff may file a Praecipe for Default and Ex Parte Hearing, which asks the court if it is necessary to appoint an attorney for the Defendant. If the court determines it is not necessary to appoint an attorney, the Plaintiff then files an Affidavit in Support of Default with the Praecipe for Default. In addition, the Plaintiff must file a Soldier and Sailors Affidavit, which certifies that the Defendant is not in the military and not entitled to any protection under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
The Praecipe for Default and a Default Order are attached together, and a judge signs them at the divorce hearing.
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