North Dakota Divorce Basics

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

By , Attorney · Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School

Getting a divorce in North Dakota can be a stressful process. If you're planning to handle your divorce yourself without the help of an attorney, you'll need to understand the process and requirements before filing your case.

This article explains the process of getting divorced in North Dakota. If you have questions after reading this article, contact a local family law attorney for advice.

North Dakota Residency Requirements

You don't have to have been married in North Dakota to get a divorce in the state. North Dakota's divorce laws require that the plaintiff (spouse filing for divorce) live in North Dakota for at least six months before filing. Alternatively, if the plaintiff doesn't meet the residency requirement, a court may still grant the divorce as long as the plaintiff has lived in North Dakota for six months by the time the divorce is finalized.

Some divorcing couples ask, "How much does a divorce cost in North Dakota?" The answer depends on the type of divorce you file and the unique circumstances of your case.

How to Get a Divorce in North Dakota

A spouse can file for divorce in North Dakota on fault or no-fault grounds. A no-fault divorce is usually the simplest and doesn't require either spouse to place blame on the other. A couple can seek a no-fault divorce based on irreconcilable differences, which simply means they can't get along.

Alternatively, a spouse can file for divorce on one of the recognized fault grounds in North Dakota, specifically:

  • extreme cruelty
  • adultery
  • willful desertion
  • willful neglect
  • substance abuse, or
  • felony conviction.

Proving fault in your divorce case isn't always easy and requires the filing spouse to meet specific, often challenging evidentiary requirements. For example, desertion or neglect must have been going on for at least a year before it can become a ground for divorce. Proving a ground like adultery or extreme cruelty can be legally complicated, emotionally stressful, and expensive.

For example, a North Dakota divorce based on the wife's adultery may cause the legitimacy of children to be questioned result in paternity questions. You will also need proof of the adultery, with either pictures, emails, videos and/or other forms of admissible evidence to prove the conduct.

How Will a Judge Divide Property in a Divorce?

North Dakota follows an equitable distribution approach when dividing property in a divorce. In equitable distribution states, courts will divide a couple's debts and assets equitably or fairly, but not necessarily equally. This means a higher earning spouse might receive more of the debts and less of the couple's assets in a divorce award.

Both spouses must disclose all property as part of their divorce case, including any separate property. If the court later discovers that either spouse failed to disclose any 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.

Alimony Awards in North Dakota

A judge won't award alimony in every case. However, when there's a financial need and the other spouse has the ability to pay, a court may grant alimony (sometimes called spousal support or spousal maintenance). Spousal support awards are decided on a case-by-case basis.

A spousal support order may be temporary, a single lump sum, or periodic monthly payments. Temporary support awards are meant to last for a shorter time—enough to allow a lower-earning spouse to become self supporting. Most often, judges award periodic alimony which usually lasts for the same number of years as the couple was married.

Understanding Child Support and Child Custody in North Dakota

Divorcing parents can reach their own custody and child support agreements. However, when parents can't agree, a judge will decide custody based upon a child's best interests. Child support will be based upon North Dakota's statutory guidelines.

Child Support

North Dakota has enacted statutory guidelines for calculating child support. Your child support award will be based largely upon the parents' incomes and the number of children involved.

A residential parent (parent with primary parenting time) 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. Parents can calculate their estimated child support award through the North Dakota Department of Human Services website, here.

In cases where one parent has vountarily quit a high-paying job or is intentionally claiming lower earnings to decrease or avoid a child support obligation, a judge can impute income to the the parent trying to shirk support. This means a judge can assign an income amount to a parent based on the parent's historical earnings.

Both parents have a financial duty to support their children, so courts have a variety of tools they can use to force parents into paying the appropriate amount of child support.

Child Custody in North Dakota

A child's best interests are central to any parenting time decision in North Dakota. To determine what kind of arrangement is best suited to the child's needs, a judge will consider the following factors:

  • each parent's relationship with the child
  • each parent's abilities to provide for the child's emotional and physical needs
  • each parent's overall stability
  • the child's ties to home, school, and community
  • the child's preference if of a sufficient age and maturity
  • each parent's willingness to foster a relationship between the child and other parent
  • each parent's physical and mental health
  • either parent's history of domestic violence
  • the child's educational and developmental needs, and
  • any other relevant factor.

In addition to deciding parenting time and decision-making responsibility, a judge will have to decide whether a joint (shared) or sole custody arrangement is most appropriate. A judge might also consider the parents' relationship with each other and their geographical proximity when deciding joint custody. See N.D. Cent. Code § 14-09-06.2 (2020).

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 child's primary residence has switched 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.

North Dakota child custody laws also address a parent's relocation with the child out of 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. See N.D. Cent. Code § 14-09-06.6 (2020).