District of Columbia Family Law

  1. Divorce

    1. Introduction

      The following sections are included because it may often be the case that a victim of an online privacy invasion has recently divorced the perpetrator spouse, or is considering a divorce or possibly a separation. The publication of sex photos/videos may well be considered in child custody proceedings, or, when spousal support is disputed, in divorce proceedings.

    2. Text of Statute(s)

      § 16-904. Grounds for divorce, legal separation, and annulment.

    3. Cases

      1. Atkinson v. Atkinson, 730 A.2d 667 (D.C. 1999).
        • Procedural Posture: Trial court denied spousal support to wife following separation. Wife appealed.
        • Law: D.C. divorce statute
        • Facts: Wife had endured one or two examples of physical abuse many years ago, and then a consistent pattern of emotional or verbal intimidation from her husband. The trial court held this latter conduct did not justify her departure from the marital residence, and therefore that she was not entitled to spousal support.
        • Outcome: Reversed. “Emotional abuse, cruelty, and intimidation” were sufficient to justify leaving the marital abode. No physical abuse needed to be alleged.1
        • Special Notes: Physical abuse is not necessary to justify leaving the marital abode.
    4. Practice Pointers

      Evidence of publication or disclosure of non-consensual pornography may support a complaint for spousal support.

    • 1. Atkinson v. Atkinson, 730 A.2d 667, 670 (D.C. 1999).
    ↑ Back to top
  2. Child Custody

    1. Introduction

      If the victim of the nonconsensual online publication of intimate photos is involved in a child custody dispute, he or she may use evidence of this type of misconduct to establish abuse or harassment by his or her former spouse or lover. When determining child custody, the court’s primary consideration is to decide what is in the best interests of the child.

    2. Text of Statute(s)

      § 16-914. Custody of children.

      D.C. Code § 16-1001 Definitions.

      (8) “Intrafamily offense” means interpersonal, intimate partner, or intrafamily violence.

      (9) “Intrafamily violence” means an act punishable as a criminal offense that is committed or threatened to be committed by an offender upon a person to whom the offender is related by blood, adoption, legal custody, marriage, or domestic partnership, or with whom the offender has a child in common.

    3. Cases

      1. P.F. v. N.C., 953 A.2d 1107 (D.C. 2008).
        • Procedural Posture: Mother appealed custody award to the father.
        • Law: Child custody
        • Facts: As relevant here, the father had physically abused the mother on at least two separate occasions. The mother obtained a temporary protective order against the father, and took the children, without notifying the father, to her family’s home in Wisconsin. After this, in response to the father’s complaint, a judge awarded temporary custody to the father. After a full evidentiary hearing, the judge then granted the husband custody.
        • Outcome: Reversed and remanded. The appeals court held that the lower court had not adequately explained how the fact that the father had committed intrafamily offenses had affected the decision. The court noted that the normal presumption of joint custody does not apply where one party has committed an intrafamily offense, in light of the legislature’s recognition that abuse of one parent by another is extremely harmful to a child.
    4. Practice Pointers

      Publication of non-consensual pornography, when directed at a spouse, may qualify as an “intrafamily offense,” and therefore become a factor that upsets the presumption of joint custody.

    ↑ Back to top