Grounds for Divorce in the District of Columbia


Area of Law: 

Divorce may be defined as the legal ending of a marriage. Married couples do not have a legal or a constitutional right to seek a divorce, but most states as well as the District of Columbia commonly accord divorces because to force a couple to remain married would go against public policy. In order to be eligible for a divorce in the District of Columbia, at least one of the parties must have lived there for at least six months prior to filing for divorce. For detailed information pertaining to divorce in the District of Columbia, go to


The two types of grounds, or justifications, for a divorce in the United States are “no-fault” and “fault.” In some states as well as in the District of Columbia, no-fault is the only acceptable justification for a divorce, even if fault grounds exist within the marriage. The other states allow the parties to select either a no-fault or a fault divorce.


The United States first adopted the concept of a no-fault divorce in the late 1960’s, and nearly all of the states currently allow for some form of it. A no-fault divorce is one in which the parties do not legally fault, or blame, each other for the divorce. Some examples of the bases for a no-fault divorce include “irreconcilable differences,” “irretrievable breakdown,” or “incompatibility.”


In the District of Columbia, grounds for a no-fault divorce are a voluntary separation on the part of both spouses of six months prior to the beginning of divorce proceedings, or the spouses having lived separate and apart with no cohabitation for at least one year prior to filing for a divorce. The District of Columbia does not require a legal separation before a couple can file for a divorce. A couple can fulfill the “living separate and apart” requirement in the District of Columbia even if they live in the same house or apartment, as long as they have separate bedrooms, do not hold themselves out as a couple, share meals, or have joint financial arrangements. For more information, see


Many states require a “cooling-off” period of separation for a specific period of time before no-fault divorce proceedings can begin. During this time, the couple is required to live separate and apart with the intent that the separation will become permanent. The duration of the cooling-off period varies according to state law.  In the District of Columbia, a divorce is not final until the time for appeal is up, which is 30 days. If the parties sign a document called a “joint waiver of appeal,” the waiting period is waived and the divorce becomes final immediately.


Some states also allow fault grounds for divorce. Common fault grounds include cruelty, desertion, adultery, prison confinement, habitual intemperance (drunkenness or drug addiction), and impotency. The District of Columbia does not allow fault grounds for divorce.


Divorce laws in general, as well as the specific grounds required for divorce differ widely across the United States. The American Bar Association provides a variety of information regarding divorce requirements state by state on their Section of Family Law website. A chart comparing all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia can be found at