In the District of Columbia, the official code does provide the parties a way to file for legal separation instead of filing for a traditional divorce. However, it should be noted that, generally speaking, it is in the party’s interest to file a petition for a divorce absolute (normal divorce) unless cultural or religious reasons make obtaining a legal separation a better option.
If, after speaking with an experienced Washington, DC divorce attorney, you decide that it is in your best interest to file for a legal separation, you will be required to establish that the Family Court Division of the Superior Court for the District of Columbia has jurisdiction to grant your petition for legal separation.
In order to establish proper jurisdiction, the DC Code requires that both parties to the marriage are voluntarily living separate and apart from each other and have not cohabitated with each other during that period of separation. Absent a mutual agreement to live separate and apart, there may be proper jurisdiction to grant a legal separation if the parties have lived separate and apart from each other for a period of one year prior to filing the action with the family court.
It should be noted that, in the District of Columbia, the parties might be considered to be living separate if they live separate lives and do not share bed or board, even if they are technically living under the same roof. The parties may also be deemed to be living separate if they have been separated pursuant to an order of any court. This comes into to play if the parties later file a petition for a divorce.
It should also be noted that, for the purposes of this statute, cohabitation essentially means that the parties are engaged in sexual relations. If the parties do have sexual relations with each other during the period of separation prior to filing, this may require the clock to reset, and you to have to wait another full year.
While this is not technically the same as a obtaining a legal separation, some prospective clients will ask if it is possible for them to get an annulment in Washington, DC. While there is an annulment statute on the books, it is practically very difficult to have a court annul a marriage in Washington, DC.
There are grounds to get an annulment, including that that marriage was procured by fraud or coercion, that one or both of the parties was legally insane at the time of entering into the marriage, or that one of the spouses was already married to someone else at the time the second marriage occurred. The second spouse is not legally a spouse and is called a putative spouse in this situation.
There is also basis to annul a marriage if one of the parties was underage at the time of entering into the marriage, but if the party attains the age of majority and then continues to cohabitate with his or her spouse, the marriage may be deemed valid.
If you need assistance with a divorce case or any other family law matter in the District of Columbia or Maryland, please contact the Law Offices of Daniel A. Gross for a consultation.