Written by Stephanie Troyer

Nov 21


Gender Neutral Test Established for Disputes over Children’s Name in D.C.

Earlier this month, the D.C. Court of Appeals issued an opinion reaffirming the “touchstone standard” by which nearly all family law disputes – including naming disputes – involving children in the District of Columbia shall be governed: a gender neutral, best-interests-of-the child standard. The case, Melbourne v. Taylor, No. 14 FM 1324, involved the request of a biological mother to have her child’s last name changed to hers. The trial court denied the mother’s request. Relying on reasoning derived from a more than half-century-old case in another jurisdiction, it concluded, among other things, that changing the child’s last name from the father’s to the mother’s would likely further weaken the bond between child and father, which can be “tenuous at best.” Read more →

Jan 08


New Court Plan Outlines Path for Quicker, More Just Resolutions in Family Matters

An Administrative Order signed by D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Lee Satterfield and dated December 31, 2014 was posted on the courts’ website today adopting a revised Domestic Relations Case Management Plan. The result of months of discussions by judges, practitioners, and advocates, the Case Management Plan provides an effective framework for scheduling and resolving custody and divorce cases in D.C. Superior Court. Legal Aid is proud to have participated in process of debating and drafting the plan, which is in effect as of January 1, 2015. Read more →

Sep 26


Legal Aid to Co-Sponsor Invitation-Only Advanced Family Law Litigation Training

Stephanie Troyer, Supervising Attorney

Legal Aid is excited about a new training opportunity for experienced pro bono attorneys who want to take the next step in advancing their family law litigation skills.   Along with Bread for the City and the DC Bar Pro Bono Program, we have arranged an invitation-only advanced training on property distribution issues that may arise in divorce and child custody cases.

 This training will provide pro bono attorneys with information and skills necessary to litigate more complex custody and divorce cases, covering topics such as:

  • dividing marital property/assets and debts
  • alimony
  • tax consequences of the division of property
  • requesting possession of a marital home 

 If you have experience litigating pro bono family law cases and are interested in developing additional expertise in divorce-related topics, please contact Stephanie Troyer at by October 24, 2012 for more information.  The training will be held on Thursday, November 1, 2012, from 1-5 p.m. at the DC Bar offices, 1101 K Street, NW.

Oct 02


Serious Challenges for Children Living in the District

Stephanie Troyer, Supervising Attorney - Family Unit

Every day at Legal Aid, we work with families living in poverty.  In a recent post, we highlighted the staggering poverty rates contained in the 2010 Census data. Further analysis of that data, together with new sobering numbers, reveal the truly dire circumstances faced by our clients and their children.  

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that the District has the highest rate of childhood poverty in the Nation. In our nation’s capital, almost one in three children is growing up poor. Of the more than 30,000 children living in poverty in the District last year, 90 percent were black, 8 percent Hispanic, and less than half a percent were white. Nationwide, Hispanic children now comprise the largest group of children living in poverty, and the rate of poverty for both black and Hispanic children is approximately three times the rate of poverty for white children. 

In addition to the challenges of widespread poverty, the Post also recently reported on the high rate of self-reported suicide attempts by District middle school students.  D.C. students consistently report double the national average of 6.3 percent.   

Challenging as the conditions of poverty may be for adults, the most innocent victims of these conditions are children. And as these statistics demonstrate, in the District, an unconscionable number of children are more challenged now than ever.

Sep 20


Additional Light Shed on Practice of Jailing Parents Behind on Child Support Payments

Stephanie Troyer, Supervising Attorney - Family Unit

Last week, ran a lengthy piece examining a very serious problem for parents who fall behind in their child support obligations. With economic insecurity and job loss facing parents nationwide, many non-custodial parents find themselves unable to maintain employment. After missing child support payments, these parents may be brought before a judge and jailed if the judge finds that payments could have been made but the parents refused to do so. 

In DC, as in Georgia and most other states, non-custodial parents are not guaranteed an attorney in civil contempt proceedings for failure to pay child support. Without an attorney, non-custodial parents may fail to effectively raise important defenses. While a parent theoretically ought to be sent to jail only when he or she has the ability to pay under a child support order, this is not always the case.

At Legal Aid, we believe that child support orders should be fair and just, and our attorneys help both custodial parents seeking child support and non-custodial parents who may be ordered to make payments. 

When one parent is facing the possibility of time behind bars, however, we believe it is particularly important that he or she have access to an attorney and receive the benefit of all the procedural safeguards required by law. In January of this year, we joined other organizations in asking the U.S. Supreme Court to recognize the seriousness of this issue and provide for the right to counsel in civil contempt proceedings. While the Supreme Court did not fully agree with our position, it did conclude that significant protections must be put in place to make sure that any jail sentence is appropriate.

Legal Aid will continue to work to ensure that non-custodial parents’ rights are protected in contempt proceedings.