In order to start the divorce process while representing yourself, you'll need to complete some forms. You can obtain some of the forms online, from the North Dakota Courts Self-Help Center. These are official forms, but you should double-check with your local court to make sure the judges there will accept them.
Be thorough and complete in responding to the questions. Fill out the forms on a computer if you can. If not, write or print neatly and legibly.
North Dakota has one basic set of online forms for self-represented people to use. However, the forms can only be used by couples who agree on all terms of the divorce and don't have any minor children (meaning, underage children who are financially dependent on you).
If you have minor children, or you and your spouse can't agree about all the terms of your divorce (known as a "contested divorce"), then you can't use the forms and you'll need to contact the clerk of court in your county or a local attorney for more information.
For those who qualify to use the forms, North Dakota has simple instructions walking you through the divorce process.
The way that you fill out the forms depends, in part, on whether you're the plaintiff (the spouse who initiates the divorce) or the defendant (the spouse who is served with divorce papers).
The first thing you should do, regardless of whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant, is read through the instructions for filing for divorce. Pay special attention to the four questions at the beginning. You can only use the forms if you can check "yes" to all four questions. Remember, if you have children or you don't agree on all the divorce terms, you can't use these forms.
The plaintiff needs to fill out the top part of the Summons (the bottom part will be filled in when the documents are filed), the Complaint, the divorce Settlement Agreement, and the Property and Debt Listing Form. The plaintiff also needs a copy of the Verification, but should not complete and sign it except in front of a notary. The settlement agreement and property and debt listing forms also have to be signed in the presence of a notary.
If your case will be contested, or if you have children, you can expect to complete additional documents that are similar to the ones outlined above. For example, if you're the plaintiff, you'll need to complete, file, and serve a summons and complaint regardless of whether you have children. The contents of the summons and complaint, however, may be different.
If you have children, you'll need to complete other documents pertaining to child support and visitation. Different service rules will also apply. The clerk of court may be able to help you determine what documents you'll need, but keep in mind that you still have to complete the forms yourself, without the assistance of the clerk. If you have questions, you can ask if there is a family law self-help center at the court or you may need to speak to a local attorney for advice. See N.D.C.C. §§ 14-05-01 et al. (2019).
When you've finished preparing the official online forms listed above, you should make two copies of the summons and complaint. If your spouse agrees to accept service, you can send one copy of the summons and complaint to your spouse via the postal service or hand them over personally. Keep the other copy for yourself, and save the originals for filing with the court.
Your spouse will need to complete an Acceptance/Admission of Service form for you to file with the court. Next, mail or give your spouse the settlement agreement and property and debt listing. It will be necessary for your spouse to sign the same original document you signed. Your spouse should make a copy of the documents and return them to you.
Alternatively, you may need to hire a process server if your spouse does not accept service of the divorce complaint and summons. Service of process is very important in the American legal system because it ensures that everyone has notice about what's going on and an opportunity to "appear," or argue, their point of view at a courtroom hearing.
The process server (a sheriff or other individual over the age of 18) will provide you with an Affidavit of Proof once your spouse has been served. Print a copy of the Affidavit of Proof (also called "Affidavit of Service"). You'll need to take it to the courthouse with you when you file your documents.
Go to your local courthouse (the one located where you or your spouse are living) and ask to file the original documents that were outlined in the instructions you read earlier, including the summons, complaint, admission of service, affidavit of proof, settlement agreement, and property and debt listing.
You'll need to pay a filing fee unless you complete the "Petition for Order Waiving Fees and Financial Affidavit," and the court agrees that the fee should be waived because you can't afford it. The court clerk can provide you with a copy of this petition.
The clerk will take all your papers and put them in a court file. Later, the clerk will mail you a letter that contains your case file number and the date your documents were formally filed.
A judge will review the forms and decide if they can be approved right away, or if a hearing is needed. If the court schedules a hearing, you'll get another letter from the clerk with a hearing date and a copy of some additional forms you'll need to complete and bring with you to court. These will include "Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order for Judgment" and a "Judgment" or "Redacted Judgment" form. The redacted judgment form omits private information.
The property and debt listing form that you fill out and give to your spouse is a very important document because it details each spouse's financial picture, including employment and income, monthly expenses, assets, and debts.
This helps everyone to understand the full economic situation and assists a judge in dividing property and making an alimony award, if appropriate. Make sure you are clear, detailed, and candid when you complete this form.
Legal Services of North Dakota is a non-profit organization committed to providing legal help to low income and elderly North Dakota residents. They have multiple locations throughout the State of North Dakota.
If you're under age 60, you can contact them at 1-800-634-5263 on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. If you're over age 60, you can call at 1-866-621-9886, Mondays through Thursdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., and Fridays between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.