Every state has its own rules and procedures for filing a divorce. Here's what you need to know to get started with your North Dakota divorce.
You must meet a state's residency requirements before you can file for divorce in its courts. To get a divorce in North Dakota, the filing spouse (the "plaintiff") must be a resident of the state for six months immediately before filing. If the plaintiff hasn't lived in North Dakota for six months before filing, the plaintiff can still file for divorce, but the court can't issue a divorce decree until the plaintiff has lived in the state continuously for six months. (N.D. Cent. Code § 14-05-17 (2022).)
It's important to file your divorce in the correct court—filing in the incorrect court could cause delays or dismissal of your divorce. You must file your divorce in the North Dakota State District Court in the county where your spouse—the non-filing ("defendant") party—lives. If your spouse lives out of state, you can file your divorce in the court located in the county where you live. (N.D. Cent. Code § 28-04-05 (2022).)
North Dakota allows both "no-fault" and "fault-based" divorces. A no-fault divorce is one in which the court doesn't require either spouse to prove that the other's bad acts were the cause of the divorce. In a fault-based divorce, one or both of the spouses must show that the other's actions caused (were "grounds for") the failure of the marriage.
No-fault divorces in North Dakota reach resolution faster than fault-based divorces because the spouses don't have to argue about or prove who was responsible for the divorce. To get a no-fault divorce in North Dakota, the filing spouse must allege that there the marriage is broken due to irreconcilable differences. "Irreconcilable differences" are differences determined by the court to be substantial reasons for not continuing the marriage and which make it appear that the marriage should be dissolved. (N.D. Cent. Code §§ 14-05-03, 14-05-09.1 (2022).)
In a fault-based divorce, one or both spouses will have to present evidence to the judge that proves that the other spouse's behavior caused the marriage to fail. North Dakota has the following fault-based grounds for divorce:
(N.D. Cent. Code § 14-05-03 (2022).)
Because filing a fault-based divorce takes longer and is usually more contentious, most divorcing couples prefer to file no-fault divorces.
Generally, there are two types of divorce—uncontested and contested. An uncontested divorce is one where the spouses agree on all divorce-related matters, such as division of property, child custody, and alimony (spousal support). A contested divorce, on the other hand, is one where the spouses disagree on at least one topic and must ask a court to decide the issues in their divorce.
Uncontested divorces usually reach resolution faster and are less expensive than contested divorces because there's no fighting in court. Instead, the judge needs only to review and approve the spouses' marital settlement agreement and issue a divorce decree.
North Dakota has a third type of divorce—summary divorce—which we'll discuss below.
To file for an uncontested divorce in North Dakota, you and your spouse must have a complete, written settlement agreement to submit to the court at the time you file your divorce petition (the "complaint"). In addition to a settlement agreement, you'll need to start your North Dakota uncontested divorce include a:
You can get these forms—as well as instructions—from the North Dakota Courts Legal Self-Help Center for Divorce. The website includes separate packets of forms that are specific to couples with and without minor children.
If you're the plaintiff, you'll need to sign and date all of the forms. Some forms might require your spouse's signature, and you'll have to sign some forms in front of a notary public or court clerk. Read each form carefully for specific signing instructions.
A "summary divorce" in North Dakota is a simplified divorce procedure that is available to couples who meet certain criteria. You and your spouse do not have to agree on every issue to get a summary divorce. However, you and your spouse can't own more than $50,000 in assets (not counting up to $100,000 in the value of your family home).
You can find the forms and instructions for summary divorce at the North Dakota Courts Legal Self-Help Center. Summary divorces usually move through the court system quickly because there is no formal discovery period, and you'll have to attend only one informal court hearing.
When you and your spouse can't agree on the issues in your divorce, you might have no other option but to file a contested divorce. North Dakota's forms don't apply to contested divorces—you'll have to create your own documents. North Dakota has an excellent guide that provides information about contested divorce. Although you can represent yourself in a contested divorce, many people choose to hire an attorney to assist with the complex paperwork and arguments.
Along with the right paperwork, you'll have to pay court filing fees. Divorce filing fees in North Dakota are $80 as of 2022.
If you can't afford the filing fees, you can request a waiver by filing a Petition for Waiver of Fees. If the court grants your motion, you can file your divorce paperwork without having to pay a fee.
After you file the paperwork, you'll need to provide notice to your spouse of the divorce by "serving" (delivering) copies of what was filed with the court. You can't serve your spouse yourself; you must have someone who's at least 18 years of age and not a party to the case do it. In North Dakota, you can serve your spouse by:
North Dakota's court system provides detailed instructions and forms for serving your spouse.
If you'd like to DIY your divorce, North Dakota has information, instructions, and forms available online. You can also get forms from your court clerk.
If you're working with an attorney, your attorney will assess your situation and fill out, file, and serve all the necessary forms. Many divorcing couples can't afford to hire an attorney to handle their entire case, but would like some assistance with completing and filing their forms. If this describes your situation, consider using an online divorce service or finding an attorney who will consult with you on an as-needed basis. Low-income individuals might qualify for reduced-fee or free legal aid.