Where can you get help with a divorce?

Attorney Jill Rynkowski Doyle provides family law legal services, including divorce, for clients in Washington, D.C. She also provides mediation services in the District of Columbia and Maryland. Please call (202) 617-4256 or use the online contact form to schedule a consultation or request additional information.

Do we have to get a divorce? Can we just separate?

Not every state allows legal separation. However, you can obtain a legal separation in the District of Columbia.  A legal separation is accomplished by petitioning the court, usually on the same grounds as for a divorce. The separation petition may include a request for division of assets and child custody and support, as well as spousal support. 

The court-decreed right of separation allows parties to remain married while living apart. The parties may not remarry during a legal separation. Spouses also may come to their own agreement to separate for a period of time, if they are not able to make the decision to divorce.  You do not need a legal separation in order to file for divorce.

What is the process for a contested divorce?

A contested divorce case moves more slowly through the courts.  One party files the complaint and the required court papers (plaintiff).  After the complaint is filed, an initial hearing is scheduled. 

The court provides you with the information regarding the hearing, which must be included in the papers you serve on your spouse (defendant).  While there are a few options for the service process, they are all specific and must be properly complied with.  After the defendant receives service, they have 21 days to respond. 

In most contested divorce cases, the parties eventually come to an agreement and avoid going to trial. However, the contested process can take a year or longer to resolve.  If the parties do come to an agreement, they can amend their filings to reflect agreement and proceed through the uncontested process as stated above.

It is usually in the parties’ best interests to come to an agreement without the court’s involvement. If you hire an attorney to help you through the negotiation of a settlement or use a mediator to reach agreement, and both parties agree to a low or no conflict resolution, everyone, including the family, usually comes out better in the end.

What is the process for an uncontested divorce?

In an uncontested divorce, one party files the complaint. The other party files a consent answer. In addition to the court forms, the marital separation agreement, signed by both parties, should be included.

The separation agreement details how the parties will divide their assets and debts and resolve issues relating to custody and support of the children and spousal support (alimony).  If the agreement is included, and the judge agrees to include it in the divorce order, it will become part of the order and can be enforced through contempt orders in the family court. 

After the filing is submitted to the court, you usually receive notice of a scheduled hearing within a few weeks.  The hearing is typically brief.  While the defendant is not required to be there, if they wish to have their name changed, it is recommended they attend.  After the judge grants the divorce, you receive the divorce order.  Your divorce is final 30 days after the date the divorce order is stamped by the court. The process for an uncontested divorce is often quicker than a contested divorce. 

How long do I have to be separated in the District of Columbia to file for divorce?

If one of the spouses has been a resident of the District of Columbia for six months, you may file for divorce here, regardless of where you were married. There are two grounds for divorce. The first one requires separation without cohabitation for at least six months and agreement between you and your spouse to separate. If one of the spouses does not agree to be separated, separation without cohabitation for at least a year is required.