District of ColumbiaChild Custody Law
District of Columbia Child Custody Guide :: Table of Contents
Child custody is defined as the guardianship over a child, which covers both physical custody and legal custody. In a child custody dispute the court may award joint custody to both parents or sole custody to a single parent.
Child custody cases in District of Columbia can be either contested and resolved by court order, or noncontested and defined in a child custody agreement between the parents. A custody agreement or order will legally determine, at minimum, the following things:
- Where the child lives (physical custody)
- Who is involved in making parenting decisions (legal custody)
- How the visitation schedule with non-custodial parents or relatives is arranged
This page describes how a contested child custody case is handled in the District of Columbia court system, and what factors are used to determine which parent gets custody.
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After a breakup or divorce in District of Columbia, couples with children must come to a child custody agreement that describes which parent the children will live with, how visitation will be scheduled, and how the non-custodial parent will pay child support.
Some of the factors considered by District of Columbia in child custody cases include the child's wishes, willingness of the parent to cooperate with their partner and any history of domestic violence.
The parenting plan may include, but shall not be limited to, provisions for:
the residence of the child or children
the financial support based on the needs of the child and the actual resources of the parent
holidays, birthdays, and vacation visitation
transportation of the child between the residences
religious training, if any
access to the child’s educational, medical, psychiatric, and dental treatment records
communication between the child and the parents
the resolution of conflict, such as a recognized family counseling or mediation service
In making its custody determination, the Court:
shall consider the parenting plans submitted by the parents in evaluating the factors set forth in subsection (a)(3) of this section in fashioning a custody order
shall designate the parent(s) who will make the major decisions concerning the health, safety, and welfare of the child that need immediate attention
may order either or both parents to attend parenting classes.(e) Joint custody shall not eliminate the responsibility for child support in accordance with the applicable child support guideline as set forth in § 16-916.01.(f)(1) An award of custody may be modified or terminated upon the motion of one or both parents, or on the Court’s own motion, upon a determination that there has been a substantial and material change in circumstances and that the modification or termination is in the best interest of the child.(2) When a motion to modify custody is filed, the burden of proof is on the party seeking a change, and the standard of proof shall be by a preponderance of the evidence.(3) The provisions of this chapter shall apply to motions to modify or terminate any award of custody filed after April 18, 1996.(g) The Court, for good cause and upon its own motion, may appoint a guardian ad litem or an attorney, or both, to represent the minor child’s interests.(h) The Court shall enter an order for any custody arrangement that is agreed to by both parents unless clear and convincing evidence indicates that the arrangement is not in the best interest of the minor child.(i) An objection by one parent to any custody arrangement shall not be the sole basis for refusing the entry of an order that the Court determines is in the best interest of the minor child.(j) The Court shall place on the record the specific factors and findings which justify any custody arrangement not agreed to by both parents.(k) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, no person shall be granted legal custody or physical custody of, or visitation with, a child if the person has been convicted of first degree sexual abuse, second degree sexual abuse, or child sexual abuse, and the child was conceived as a result of that violation.
If the parents are on amicable terms they may agree to custody terms in a parenting agreement between themselves, or via a mediator. If child custody is disputed, however, they will have to receive a child custody order from a District of Columbia judge, who will attempt to make a custody decision that is in the "best interests of the child".
In the District of Columbia, a number of factors are taken into account by the courts when determining who gets child custody. This section describes District of Columbia's custody factors, considerations, and presumptions when evaluating a custody order.
Is there a set list of statutory factors for calculating child custody in the District of Columbia?
District of Columbia has a list of statutory factors that are considered by the court when determining a custody order. This list may include factors such as the child's age, the living situation of each parent, any history of abuse or neglect from either parent, etc. Although there is a statutory list of factors, consider other factors at its discretion depending on the particular circumstances of the case.
Do judges in the District of Columbia favor joint custody?
Judges in District of Columbia are authorized to order either joint or single-parent custody of a child subject to a custody dispute.
Courts in District of Columbia do not have a presumption in favor joint custody orders when evaluating child custody. The judge will evaluate the specifics of the custody dispute to determine what custody arrangement is in the best interests of the child.
Do District of Columbia courts encourage parents to cooperate together to raise the child?
District of Columbia courts favor awarding custody to a cooperative parent who is willing to work together with the other parent regarding child visitation, scheduling, child support, and other co-parenting matters. District of Columbia law favors co-parenting as being in the best interests of the child, and the courts will favor a parent willing to cooperate over a parent who attempts to alienate their child from the other parent.
Are the child's wishes considered when determining custody in the District of Columbia?
In District of Columbia, the court does consider the child's reasonable wishes when determining which parent wins custody. The judge may take the child's age, maturity, and judgement into consideration when considering the child's custody preference.
Do District of Columbia courts consider domestic violence when determining custody?
District of Columbia has laws that explicitly permit the consideration of domestic violence in conjunction with child custody. This may mean that domestic violence is a statutory factor in custody determinations, that the court has a presumption against custody for abusers, or that special procedural considerations are imposed in cases involving domestic violence.
Do the courts in the District of Columbia have the right to hire an attorney or Guardian Ad Litem to represent the child?
District of Columbia has statutory authority for appointment of a guardian ad litem or attorney specifically to represent the child in a custody case. This person advocates for the best interest of the child, and is tasked with investigating the family situation and advising the court what custody situation would be in the best interests of the child.