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A Timeline for Navigating the Divorce Process in Washington, D.C.

by | Dec 18, 2023 | Divorce, Family Law, Legal Process

When dealing with any legal matter, be it a criminal charge, a family law case, or something else altogether, it’s normal to find yourself overwhelmed with questions about the legal process, potential outcomes, and different financial and emotional factors.

This is especially true with divorce cases, which are oftentimes emotionally charged and exceptionally complicated. There’s a whole of hosts of things to consider that can factor in to the litigation of the case, from property distribution and child custody, to mediation and discovery.

Here at JC Law, we see hundreds of divorce cases come into our firm every year, and one question we get asked by new clients more than any other is a simple (yet important) one: How long is this case going to take?

Divorce is a challenging process, and understanding the timeline for a case from A to Z can help individuals navigate their legal journey with greater clarity. Each state and district’s divorce process follows a specific timeline, governed by certain laws and procedures.

Today’s blog marks the final part of a three part series providing comprehensive overviews of the typical timelines for divorce cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia from the initial filing to the final resolution.

Today, we’ll wrap up this short blog series by discussing divorce timelines in the nation’s capital.

PLEASE NOTE: While the entirety of Washington, D.C. represents one legal jurisdiction, and thus all divorce cases in the district follow the same set of procedural guidelines, please keep in mind that the following is a general overview of said guidelines. For more specific information pertaining to your case, please contact a family law attorney immediately. To speak with one of JC Law’s dedicated family law attorneys in a free consultation, call our office at (888) JCLAW-10 or click here to schedule your consultation at your convenience.

1. Filing for Divorce (0-2 months):

  • The divorce process in Washington, D.C. typically begins with one spouse filing a Complaint for Absolute Divorce. The filing spouse must meet the residency requirements, having lived in D.C. for at least six months before filing. After filing, the non-filing spouse is served with the divorce papers, initiating the legal proceedings.

2. Response and Waiting Period (1-2 months):

  • Once served with the complaint for absolute divorce, the non-filing spouse has 30 days to file a response (or “answer”) to the divorce complaint. During this period, the court may impose a mandatory waiting period, allowing both parties to consider reconciliation or further negotiation.
  • Once a response is filed, the court system will set a date for a divorce hearing.
  • If the non-filing spouse does not respond, the court may proceed with a default judgment, meaning that the court will make a decision on factors such as child custody, property distribution, or spousal support without the non-filing spouse’s input.

3. Discovery and Settlement Negotiations (2-6 months):

  • The “discovery phase” is a crucial part of divorce proceedings, as it involves the exchange and gathering of information and documents between the divorcing parties.
  • The information gathered can be equal parts specific and comprehensive, and often pertains to factors that play an important role in an eventual divorce judgement, such as assets, liabilities, income, and other pertinent information.
  • With everything from phone records to utility bills coming into play, the information gathered during the discovery phase can form the backbone of a divorce attorney’s case, and the level of detail necessary to properly execute discovery means that this phase often takes a few months.
  • Concurrently, the spouses may engage in settlement negotiations during this time, attempting to resolve issues such as property division, alimony, and child custody without the need for a trial.

4. Mediation or Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) (2-4 months):

  • In Washington, D.C., mediation, or Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), may be required by the court to encourage a collaborative resolution.
  • If a couple wishes to explore mediation, a neutral third party (often a licensed attorney or professional mediator) will be used to assist both parties in reaching agreements on various issues such as property distribution, child custody, or spousal support.
  • If successful, this can significantly expedite the divorce process as it removes the need for a emotionally charged, resource-intensive divorce trial altogether.

5. Pre-Trial Conference (4-6 months):

  • If the spouses cannot reach a settlement through negotiation or mediation, the court may schedule a pre-trial conference.
  • This conference allows the court to assess the readiness of both parties for trial, identify contested issues that will need to be accounted for in said trial, and encourage further settlement discussions.

6. Trial (6-12 months):

  • If all attempts at resolution fail, the divorce case proceeds to trial. The length of the trial can vary based on the complexity of the issues involved, with some trials lasting a single day and others stretching for a full week or even more based on factors specific to the case. During the trial, each party presents evidence, witnesses, and arguments to support their case. The court then makes decisions on matters such as asset division, alimony, child custody, and support.

7. Final Decree and Post-Divorce Matters (1-3 months):

  • After the trial, the court issues a final decree of divorce, officially ending the marriage. Post-divorce matters, such as enforcing court orders or addressing modifications, may still require attention, extending the legal process.

Navigating a divorce in Washington, D.C. involves a series of well-defined stages, each with its own timeframe. While uncontested divorces may progress more swiftly and conclude in as little as three months, contested cases, particularly those involving complex property division or child custody, may take considerably longer.

No matter what, speak to an attorney.

Seeking legal guidance and support throughout the process can help individuals make informed decisions and navigate the emotional and legal complexities of divorce in the nation’s capital. As already discussed, it’s perfectly natural to feel overwhelmed with a host of questions about your case, and that’s where we come in.

If you or a loved one are going through or considering a divorce, don’t waste any more time. Give us a call at (888) JCLAW-10 right away to speak with one of our expert family law attorneys, or click here to schedule a free consultation at your convenience. 

Remember, at JC Law, we aren’t just your attorney. We’re your legal ally.