North Dakota Divorce Basics

Learn the basics of a divorce, or dissolution of marriage, in North Dakota.

Grounds for Divorce

North Dakota recognizes both fault and no-fault grounds for divorce. A person seeking a fault divorce can file for divorce based on adultery, extreme cruelty, willful desertion, willful neglect, abuse of alcohol or controlled substances, or a felony conviction. The only fault ground for divorce is irreconcilable differences.

Proving fault requires the filing spouse to meet specific standards. For example, desertion or neglect must have been going on for at least a year before it can become a ground for divorce.

If the court grants a divorce based on adultery by the wife, the legitimacy of children may be questioned and the court may require a determination of paternity.

Residency Requirement

The spouse filing for divorce (the plaintiff) must have been a resident of North Dakota for six months before filing. If the plaintiff doesn’t meet that requirement, the court may still grant the separation or divorce if the plaintiff has lived in the state for the six months before the divorce is finalized.

Property Division

North Dakota is an equitable distribution state, which means that a court will divide the assets and debts based on what is equitable, not necessarily equally.

If the court later discovers that either spouse failed to disclose property and debts, or if one of the spouses does not comply with the court order distributing the property, the court can make a post-judgment order to redistribute the property.


The court may grant alimony, otherwise known as spousal support, after evaluating the needs of the spouse requesting the support and the ability of the other spouse to pay. These decisions are all made on a case by case basis. A spousal support order may be temporary, providing support while the divorce is being processed, or may last for years after the divorce is completed; support may be paid monthly (the most common way) or in a lump sum, usually paid when the divorce becomes final.

Child Support

When calculating child support, a court will look at how much time each parent spends with the child and at both parents’ incomes and resources. A residential parent usually receives support from the non-residential parent. The court will also look at how many other children the paying parent is supporting and whether there are other deductions like union dues and health insurance. The child support guideline calculator can be found at the website for North Dakota Department of Human Services, here.

Child Custody

A North Dakota court bases child custody decisions on the best interests and welfare of the child. The court considers the parents’ abilities provide for the child’s emotional and physical needs, the relationship between the child and each parent, any evidence of domestic violence, the stability and environment of each parent’s home, and the child’s preference, if the child is mature enough. If one parent has made false accusations of abuse, the judge will take that into account as well.

After the court makes a permanent order for child custody, the parents generally may not ask the court to modify that order for two years, with certain exceptions. For example, the court may modify a permanent order if one of the parents has been purposely denying or interfering with the other parent’s visitation time, if the environment at one parent’s home is endangering the child’s wellbeing, or if the parents themselves have adjusted things and the child’s primary residence has changed to the other parent for longer than six months.

If more than two years have passed since the initial child custody order, then the court may modify the order if a material change has occurred or if the modification is in the best interests of the child.

There are also laws in North Dakota regarding the relocation of the child from the state. A parent with primary or equal residential responsibility who wishes to move out of state must get a court order approving the move or permission from the other parent, unless the other parent lives more than 50 miles away from the child’s residence or has not exercised parenting time for more than one year.

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