• Washington, DC Divorce Attorney (202) 596-5716
    Washington, DC Divorce Attorney (202) 596-5716 Divorce, Collaborative Divorce, Child Custody, Family Law, Prenuptial Agreements

What Happens a DC Child Custody Hearing?

In Washington, DC, a child custody case can be opened by one party to a marriage, or a biological or adoptive parent of a child born outside of wedlock.  The case generally begins by one party going the Family Court Division of the Superior Court for the District of Columbia and filing a petition for custody and/or visitation of a minor child.

Once the complaint for child custody has been filed, the filing party will be required to serve the other parent with a copy of the summons and complaint stamped by the court.  While you can do this without an attorney, it is much easier to speak with a Washington, DC child custody lawyer before beginning the process so you know that everything will be done properly. 

A complaint for child custody or visitation can be filed with a DC divorce case, or separately depending on the situation.  Once the plaintiff has filed the summons and complaint, the court will schedule an initial hearing within 45 days of filing.  In the case of an emergency, a hearing may be held much sooner.

First it should be noted, pursuant to Washington, DC law, there is a presumption in favor of joint legal custody and joint physical custody.

What is legal custody in Washington, DC?

In the District of Columbia, legal custody means that the parent will have the right to make legal decisions on behalf of a minor child.  Some of these decision can include what school to send a child to, or what medical treatment should be given in the event the child becomes ill.  This is sometimes influenced by a parent’s religious beliefs or personal feelings on these matters.

There is presumption in favor of joint legal custody meaning both parents will be able to have a say in what legal decisions are made on behalf of the minor child.  However, this presumption can be overcome by showing one parent is not mentally able to make such decisions or has abused or neglected the minor child. 

What is physical custody in Washington, DC?

In Washington, DC physical custody is where the child lives.  There is again a presumption in favor of joint physical custody where the child will live with both parents part of the time.  This presumption can be overcome by showing the other parent is not fit to share physical custody.  In determining custody, the court will consider the 17 factors listed in DC Code Section 16-914(a)(3)

Can the parties reach an agreement as to child custody in Washington, DC?

Yes, the parties can reach a private settlement agreement as to child custody.  If the parties form an agreement, and that agreement is reasonable to the court, the court does not have to stick to the factors listed in the DC Code.  However, the court must be satisfied any agreement is in the best interests of the child, which is the ultimate standard in DC child custody cases.

How long does the child custody process take?

After the first hearing is held, the judge will typically enter a temporary order, and set a status for several months later.  That temporary order is called a pendante lite order in Washington, DC.  Mediation may also be ordered if the parties agree to give that a try.  If the parties cannot reach an agreement, a trial will be held where the judge will hear evidence and make a ruling on custody issues.

If you need assistance with a Washington, DC child custody case or any other family law issue, please contact the Law Office of Daniel A. Gross, PLLC for a confidential consultation by calling 202.596.5716


Practice Areas

  • Washington, DC Divorce +

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  • Washington, DC Child Custody and Visitation Law +

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  • Washington, DC Child Support +

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