State Laws and Legislation

D.C. Custody and Visitation Law

Custody and Visitation for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Parents
The sexual orientation of a parent is prohibited from being used as a consideration in custody or visitation unless it would impact the best interests of the child.

District of Columbia law states: “In any proceeding between parents in which the custody of a child is raised as an issue, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration. The race, color, national origin, political affiliation, sex or sexual orientation of a party, in and of itself, shall not be a conclusive consideration. The court shall make a determination as to the legal custody and the physical custody of a child. …

“In determining the care and custody of a child, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration. To determine the best interest of the child, the court shall consider all relevant factors, including, but not limited to: (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; …  (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 a 1991 case, In Re J.A. v. L.A., a trial court granted the government’s civil neglect petition against the mother and granted custody to the father. The mother appealed. Finding that the trial judge’s appearance of personal distaste toward the mother had impermissibly tainted the proceedings with bias, the appellate court reversed and remanded for a new trial. The appellate court used as evidence the trial judge’s repeated hostile questioning of the mother about her sexual orientation and sexual activities. Although the trial judge specifically stated that the issue of sexual orientation was not a factor in his decision, “Undue inquiry into the mother’s sex life and the other statements on this record indicating a significant level of bias cannot be deemed harmless.”

Custody and Visitation for Transgender Parents
There are no published cases dealing with transgender parents. State law, however, does not seem to permit the consideration of factors that do not affect the best interests of the child to be used in custody and visitation determinations.

Custody and Visitation for Same-Sex Co-Parents
There are no reported or published opinions dealing with same-sex co-parents.

Citations: D.C. CODE ANN. §16-914 (2003); In Re J.A. v. L.A., 601 A.2d 69 (D.C. 1991).

Updated: Tue, October 12, 2004 - 11:00:14