Child Custody in Washington, DC

One of the most common reasons people in unhappy marriages stay together is because they believe that it is best for the children.  For this reason, many people decide to put up with misery and unhappiness until the children grow up and go off to school, and then they will think about getting a divorce.

While this is a commonly held belief, many studies have shown that it may do children more harm than good to be living in a household with parents who are not happy with their marriage.  One thing that may provide some peace of mind when trying to decide what to do is to understand how the child custody laws in Washington, DC work and what you can expect during a child custody proceeding.

Starting a Child Custody Proceeding in Washington, DC

This first thing that should be mentioned is that a child custody action can be filed as part of a divorce action, or it can be filed separately.  In many cases, the parents of the children are not married to each other, thus obviating the need for a divorce proceeding. It is also important to keep in mind that many people try to file a child custody action on their own without the assistance of an experienced Washington, DC child custody attorney.  It is in both your best interest and your children’s best interest to speak with a family law attorney before filing any paperwork.  These proceedings are very complicated and get out of hand very quickly if you do not have representation.

As for the actual starting of a case, the first thing your attorney will do is file a complaint for child custody.  You will be required to show that your child has been living in the District of Columbia for a certain period of time and that you are the biological parent of the child. You must also decide the type of custody for which you are asking.

Joint Legal and Joint Physical Custody in Washington, DC

In some states, there is preference for sole physical custody.  This means the child or children will live at one parent’s home full time and have visitation with the other parent.  This may include weekends, holidays, and weeks at a time when the child is out of school.

However, in Washington, DC child custody cases, as your attorney can explain, there is a presumption for joint physical custody, as defined in D.C. Code § 16–914. This means that the court believes it is in a child’s best interest to live some of the time at one parent’s home and some of the time at the other parent’s home.  There are only two ways to overcome this presumption, and this is by agreement of the parties or by a showing that the other parent has committed physical or mental abuse or abandoned the child.  Regardless of the evidence presented at trial or an agreement between the parties, the judge must be convinced that any child custody decision is made in in the best interest of the child.

Legal custody involves the right to make important legal decisions on behalf of a minor child.  This may include where to enroll the child in school, whether or not to allow doctors to perform a certain medical procedure, and a variety of other decisions parents are required to make.

The family law attorneys at DiPietro Family Law Group, PLLC have years of experience handling domestic relations cases in jurisdictions across Northern Virginia, Washington, DC and Maryland. Contact us to schedule a consultation.

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