Frequently Asked Questions

We have gathered common questions and their answers on this page as a public service. Please keep in mind that the answers to these questions contain general information only. The only way to know how the law affects your specific situation is to contact an attorney in your state.

The information provided on this page is not intended to provide legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the viewer and the law firm. Please see the disclaimer at the bottom of the page for further information.

Divorce:

What are the grounds for divorce in DC?
How long do I have to live in DC to file for divorce?
What is an uncontested divorce?
What are the grounds for divorce in Virginia?
How long do I have to live in Virginia to file for divorce?
What constitutes separation in Virginia?
Do I have to have a lawyer represent me for a divorce?
What do I have to do to start a divorce?
What is a temporary order in a divorce case?
When is a divorce final?
How is property divided in a divorce case?
Can I get alimony from my partner?

 

Child Custody:

What is legal custody?
What is physical custody?
What is the difference between joint custody and sole custody?
How do I change a custody order?

 

Child support and paternity:

How is paternity established?
How is child support determined?

 

What are the grounds for divorce in DC?

A: The District of Columbia is a “no fault” jurisdiction. This means that the only grounds for divorce is separation. In the District, if the separation was mutual and voluntary, the parties must be separated for at least six months prior to filing for divorce. If the separation was not mutual and voluntary, the parties must be separated for at least one year prior to filing for divorce.

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How long do I have to live in DC to file for divorce?

A: You or your spouse must be residents of the District of Columbia at least six months prior to filing for divorce.

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What is an uncontested divorce?

A: An uncontested divorce is one where the husband and wife agree on how the property is to be divided, how much time the children will spend with each parent, what amount of child support will be paid, and that there are no other issues about which they don’t agree.  

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What are the grounds for divorce in Virginia?

A: Virginia has both “fault” and “no fault” grounds for divorce.

In a no fault divorce, the parties must be separated for the requisite time prior to filing for divorce.  For couples with minor children who have entered into a separation agreement, the legal separation must be for at least six months.  For all other parties, the separation must be for at least twelve months.

Virginia recognizes several grounds for divorce: adultery, cruelty, sodomy, felony conviction, apprehension of bodily hurt, and desertion/abandonment.  The fault based grounds are usually very tricky to prove.

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How long do I have to live in Virginia to file for divorce?

A: You or your spouse must be residents of Virginia for at least six months prior to filing for divorce.

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What constitutes separation in Virginia?

A: Separation occurs when the parties cease to live together as husband and wife with the intent of divorcing.  Usually, this occurs when one of the spouses moves out of the home.  However, a couple can live in the same house while still being separated.  The date of separation is important in determining the time period for a no-fault divorce.

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Do I have to have a lawyer represent me for a divorce?

A: Everyone has the right to represent himself or herself in court; however, it’s rarely a good idea. Despite what others may tell you, family law is complex. Even situations that may seem simple to someone else are usually much more complicated than they appear. An experienced family law attorney can help you navigate the process.

If you receive divorce papers, it is very important that you don’t ignore them. If you don’t respond to divorce papers, you may give up valuable rights. Contact a family law attorney to get help.

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What do I have to do to start a divorce?

A: You must file a complaint and summons, and serve it upon the other party.  The other party has time to respond to the complaint.  The court will set a date to appear for all parties and their attorneys.

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What is a temporary order in a divorce case?

A: At the time a complaint for divorce is filed, the person filing the complaint can request that various orders be issued by the Court. These are “temporary orders” and are in effect from the time of the filing of the complaint to the entry of the divorce decree.

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When is a divorce final?

A: A divorce is final 30 days after the court issues the divorce decree.

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How is property divided in a divorce case?

A: Courts will divide the property under the principle of equitable distribution.  This does not mean that the property will be divided 50/50.  Virginia and the District of Columbia courts have very specific factors they consider in determining how to divide property.

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Can I get alimony from my partner?

A:  Alimony is entirely a decision made by the courts.  Alimony is never automatic.  Courts hare required to consider certain factors to determine whether alimony is warranted.

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What is legal custody?

A: Legal custody determines who can make legal decisions for the child, such as education, medical decisions, and religion.  A court may award joint legal custody or sole legal custody.

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What is physical custody?

A: Physical custody refers to where the child resides primarily.  The court may award joint physical custody or sole physical custody.

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What is the difference between joint custody and sole custody?

A: Joint legal custody means the parents work together to make decisions for the child, while sole legal custody means one parent makes all of the legal decisions.  Joint physical custody means the child splits time between the parents’ homes, while sole physical custody means the child primarily lives with one parent.

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How do I change a custody order?

A:  Once a custody order is entered, a party must show a significant or material change in circumstances to change it.  Every situation needs to be evaluated on its own facts to decide if there is a change in circumstances to warrant a change in the order.

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How is paternity established?

A: If the father’s name is on the birth certificate, it is presumed that he is the father.  If there is no father named on the birth certificate, the party can sign an affidavit/acknowledgment of paternity.  This is a court document in which the party states that he is the father.  Alternatively, the parties can also have genetic testing done to determine paternity.

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How is child support determined?

A:  Child support is determined by a calculator that takes into consideration a variety of factors.  Both DC and Virginia have child support calculators that can be found online.

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