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District of Columbia Family Law: An Overview

Even though it isn’t a state, the District of Columbia possesses its own statutory laws, including family laws that govern things like marriage, divorce, children’s welfare and marital property. Any family matters within the nation’s capital aren’t governed by Virginia or Maryland’s family laws, so you will need to learn more about how they are affected and where you can get help in Washington, D.C.

If you have a family law case in Washington, D.C., LawInfo is your source for information and legal help. LawInfo’s Washington, D.C. Family Law section includes legal overviews, summaries of state laws and other resources to help you make the right decisions for you and your family.

If you need help navigating the complex laws governing your case, a Washington, D.C. family law attorney can help and treat your case with the sensitivity it deserves.

District of Columbia Marriage Licenses

As you’re planning your wedding, you’ll want to factor in some time to attain a Washington, D.C. marriage license beforehand. A license is a vital part of legalizing your marriage in the capital. It verifies that your marriage satisfies Washington, D.C.’s marriage laws—specifically that your marriage doesn’t fall into one of the prohibited marriage categories, which include:

  • Marriages between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, siblings, uncles/aunts and nieces/nephews, stepparents and stepchildren or parents and child-in-laws. Marriages between first cousins are permitted.
  • Bigamous marriages. Any previous marriages need to be terminated and proof of divorce or the death of the previous spouse must be provided.
  • Marriages to people without the mental capacity to provide consent to the marriage.
  • Marriages entered into by force or fraud.
  • Marriages to minors under 16 years of age. A person under 18 years of age must receive written consent from their parents or guardians.

Either one or both parties must apply for a marriage license in person before the Washington, D.C. Marriage Bureau with proof of identity. The license can be issued on the same day as the application if all of the requirements are met. Once you receive the license, you don’t have to wait to perform your marriage ceremony. The license doesn’t have an expiration date.

District of Columbia Domestic Abuse Protections

Domestic abuse (also called “intrafamily violence” in Washington, D.C.) is a serious legal matter of which no victim should feel discouraged from seeking help with. If you are a victim of domestic abuse, you shouldn’t hesitate to petition for a civil protection order at a Domestic Violence Intake Center.

A temporary protection order may be issued after you initially petition for a civil protection order under oath if your safety or welfare is under imminent threat from your abuser. The temporary order lasts for 14 days and may be extended in 14-day or longer increments.

Once the court has determined that the respondent (the abuser) has committed an intrafamily violence offense against the petitioner (the victim), it will grant a civil protection order that lasts for one year with the possibility of extension.

District of Columbia Child Custody

When it comes to matters of child custody after divorce, Washington, D.C.’s family laws try to work within the best interests of the child. To that end, it may divide custody over a child between both parents, who may either share joint custody or a combination of joint and sole custody. These laws achieve this by separating custody into legal custody and physical custody.

When a parent is awarded legal custody, they are granted the responsibility of making important decisions about a minor child’s (under 18 years of age) life, including education, healthcare and general welfare. Physical custody, on the other hand, permits the parent to make decisions about where or with whom the child will reside, including the right to develop a visitation schedule.

Washington, D.C. courts can either assign one parent sole legal, physical or full custody or have both parents share some or all of the legal and physical custody responsibilities in joint custody.

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