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 Supreme Court's self-represented divorce forms index. 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 for more information.
For those who qualify to use the forms, North Dakota has a simple, step-by-step set of instructions to walk you through the divorce process. The way that you fill out the forms depends, in part, on whether you are the plaintiff (the spouse who initiates the divorce) or the defendant (the spouse who is served with divorce papers).
If your case will be contested, or if you have children, you can expect to complete documents that are similar to the ones outlined above. For example, if you are 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 can help you determine what documents you'll need, but keep in mind that you still have to complete them yourself, without the assistance of the clerk.
When you’ve finished preparing the official online forms listed above, you should make two copies of the summons and complaint. 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. You will also need to send the admission of service form to your spouse, and ask them to fill it out, make a copy, and return it to you. The admission of service is your proof that your spouse knows about the divorce.
Sending your spouse a copy of all the forms constitutes "service of process." 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. Service of process ensures that no one is ever “ambushed” in a courtroom.
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.
Print a copy of the affidavit of proof. You'll need to take it to the courthouse with you when you file your documents, so you can sign it in front of the court clerk or another notary.
Go to your local courthouse (the one 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 fee of $80 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 a hearing is needed, you'll get another letter from the clerk of court with a hearing date and a copy of some additional forms you'll need to complete and bring with you to the hearing. 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, from employment to assets to liabilities and monthly expenses. This helps everyone to understand the full economic situation and reach a fair agreement. 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.