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).
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  2. Child Custody

    1. Introduction

      The victim of nonconsensual online publication of intimate photographs or videos may have difficulty suing under a theory of negligent infliction of emotional distress because D.C. courts require the plaintiff to have been within a physical “zone of danger” to sustain such claims.

    2. Elements

      Plaintiff must show: (1) Serious emotional distress accompanied by a physical injury or an additional underlying tort; and (2) Defendant’s tortious conduct was not intentional.

    3. Cases

      1. Jane W. v. President & Directors of Georgetown Coll., 863 A.2d 821, 826–27 (D.C. 2004).
        • Procedural Posture: Plaintiff brought negligence action against hospital. Trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendant. Plaintiff appealed.
        • Law: NIED
        • Facts: Plaintiff discovered that hospital may have inadvertently replaced her pain medication with saline solution during radiology treatment. Plaintiff alleged NIED.
        • Outcome: Affirmed. The court held that plaintiff had not shown that she was plausibly in the “zone of physical danger,” a necessary prerequisite for an NIED claim in D.C.
        • Special Notes: It appears a zone of “physical danger” is required for NIED claims in D.C.
    4. Practice Pointers

      Because the transmission and publication of revenge pornography would seem not to create an immediate “zone of physical danger,” the NIED tort is likely of limited relevance to victims in D.C.

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