There is a lot of information anyone going through a case regarding child custody in DC should know. Our Child Custody Lawyers in Washington DC can help explain everything you need to know to get the best results in your case. Below is an outline of the basic information you should know about child custody in DC.
Can a DC Court Hear Your Case?
Given the large number of people moving in and out of Washington, DC, and the surrounding areas, knowing which court can hear your case can sometimes become confusing. The first thing to know is that for a DC Court to hear your case, your child or children must have been residing in Washington, DC, for six months before filing the DC Child Custody case. This six-month rule is known as “home state” jurisdiction and is based on the Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction Enforcement Act. There are caveats to the home state rule and other ways to obtain jurisdiction, but the court will primarily look to the child’s home state in determining jurisdiction in any DC child custody case. Child Custody Lawyers in Washington DC can explain the ins and outs of determining the home state and/or other means of jurisdiction in DC child custody cases.
Types of Child Custody in DC
There is a presumption of joint custody in DC, but there are several different arrangements a court can order for child custody in DC. Child Custody laws in Washington DC allow the court to award sole physical custody, sole legal custody, joint physical custody, joint legal custody, and any combination thereof. Physical custody involves where the child resides, and legal custody involves who makes decisions for the child. Sole physical custody means the child is living with one parent, and the other parent does not have any type of visitation. If there is sole legal custody, one parent alone is tasked with making legal decisions for the child. Joint custody in DC means that both parents are involved in the physical caretaking and decision making for the child. Joint custody in DC does not necessarily mean 50/50 custody.
In making a decision on how DC Child Custody is awarded the court looks to seventeen factors that are found in the DC Code. Those factors are:
(A) the wishes of the child as to his or her custodian, where practicable;
(B) the wishes of the child’s parent or parents as to the child’s custody;
(C) the interaction and interrelationship of the child with his or her parent or parents, his or her siblings, and any other person who may emotionally or psychologically affect the child’s best interest;
(D) the child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community;
(E) the mental and physical health of all individuals involved;
(F) evidence of an intrafamily offense as defined in section 16-1001(5) [now § 16-1001(8)];
(G) the capacity of the parents to communicate and reach shared decisions affecting the child’s welfare;
(H) the willingness of the parents to share custody;
(I) the prior involvement of each parent in the child’s life;
(J) the potential disruption of the child’s social and school life;
(K) the geographic proximity of the parental homes, as this relates to the practical considerations of the child’s residential schedule;
(L) the demands of parental employment;
(M) the age and number of children;
(N) the sincerity of each parent’s request;
(O) the parent’s ability to financially support a joint custody arrangement;
(P) the impact on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or Program on Work, Employment, and Responsibilities, and medical assistance; and
(Q) the benefit to the parents.
In addition to these factors, the court will examine any other relevant issue related to child custody in DC.
Washington DC Child Custody Relocation Cases
In any DC child custody case where a parent wants to relocate out of DC with the child, the court must look at ten additional custody factors in addition to the seventeen factors set forth above. These ten factors are known as the Estopina factors after the court case that outlined them. The ten additional factors are:
- The strength of the relationship of the child with each parent
- The individual resources, temperament, and special development needs of the child;
- The psychological stability of the relocating parent and the parenting effectiveness of both parents
- The success of the current custody arrangement and the effect the proposed relocation will have on its stability and continuity
- The advantages and disadvantages of the proposed relocation, including the potential disruption of the child’s social and school life and a comparison of the educational, health, and extracurricular opportunities the child would have in each location;
- Any benefits to the child likely to be derived from the parents’ improved circumstances
- The feasibility of an alternative visitation and access schedule, including the geographic proximity of and travel time between the parental homes as this relates to the practical considerations of the child’s residential schedule;
- The motivations of the parents in proposing and opposing relocation;
- The effect the move will have on the child’s relationship with the non-custodial parent and
- The extent of any conflict between the parents and the recent marital separation
Modification of Child Custody in Washington DC
If an existing DC Child Custody Order needs to be modified, that can be done in certain circumstances. As with all DC child custody matters, modification is based on what is in the child’s best interest. Generally speaking, the parent seeking to change child custody in DC has to show that there has been a substantial and material change in circumstances that affects the child’s best interest. Depending on whether the child Custody in DC was entered via consent, meaning the parents agreed to it, or by trial after the court takes evidence, the burden may be greater on the parent seeking to modify the child custody in DC. A child custody lawyer in Washington, DC can help evaluate your case to determine if a DC child custody order can be modified and how to best present your case for child custody in DC.
Whenever a court issues an order for child custody in DC it usually also addresses child support; child support in DC is primarily governed by the DC Child Support Guidelines. The guidelines take into account the time each parent is spending with the child, the income of each party, alimony paid to or received by either parent, any other children each respective parent has to support, the cost of reasonable childcare expenses to enable the education or employment of each parent, the cost of providing health insurance to the child, and any unreimbursed extraordinary medical expenses. The guidelines are presumptive, meaning whatever amount of child support the guidelines call for will, in most cases be what the court orders. If the parents combined income is over $240,000, then the court can order additional child support on top of what the guidelines call for if necessary, based on each family’s specific situation. If a modification in child custody in DC occurs, or if there is another reason to modify the inputs to the child support guideline, then it may be possible to modify child support. The standard for modification is a substantial and material change in circumstances. If the change would result in child support rising or being reduced by fifteen percent or more, then there is a presumption that modification of child support is in the child’s best interest.
Options to Resolve Disputes Regarding Child Custody in DC
In almost all cases in DC the Judges will refer the parents to mediation of some sort to attempt to get the parents in the case to agree to a custody solution rather than having the Judge decide at trial. The presumption is that the parents know better than the Judge what would be best for the child or children.
There are three common options used to mediate child custody in DC. There is a free mediation option offered through the DC Superior Court called Multi-Door Dispute Resolution. Multi-Door Dispute Resolution offers up to five free on-hour mediation sessions. These sessions are usually held once a week, and most of the time, attorneys are not part of this process. A second option for court-ordered mediation is Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). ADR is a process by which the parties jointly select a mediator from a court-approved list. If the parties cannot jointly select one, then the court will select the mediator. The mediators included in the list are obligated to offer their services at a significantly reduced hourly rate. The mediation through ADR is scheduled for four hours, usually in one block or two two-hour blocks. The parties can jointly agree to continue past the initial four hours, but the mediator is only obligated to offer their reduced rate for mediating for the first four hours. The process of ADR usually involves each party’s respective child custody lawyer. The third option is for the parties to have settlement discussions directly, or through their respective child custody attorneys.
A Child Custody Lawyer in Washington DC can help you attempt to resolve your child custody in DC without the need for litigation by guiding and advising you through mediation. Our Child Custody Lawyer in Washington DC can also help you select a skilled mediator to assist in facilitating a resolution to the custody dispute, and prepare to get the best result possible at mediation.
If a reasonable solution cannot be reached, then Child Custody in DC is resolved through a trial where both parents present their evidence to a judge who will make a decision based on the best interests of the child. Our Child Custody Lawyer in Washington DC has several years of experience litigating child custody in DC and can help you present your case to the court to get the best result possible.
Other Ways Our Child Custody Lawyers in Washington DC Can Help With Your Case
In many child custody cases, there will be a need for other third-party professionals, such as a guardian ad litem, vocational expert, parenting coordinator, and mental health professional, to become involved. Our Child Custody Lawyer in Washington, DC can help you maneuver the decision on whether and how to involve these third-party professionals and whom to choose to fill those roles. If you and your partner have already reached a tentative agreement on custody, our Child Custody Lawyer in DC can review your agreement to make sure it covers everything it should and what else might be important to add or address. We can also work with you to help you get your custody agreement entered into a court order and ensure the process goes smoothly and quickly.