Grounds for Divorce in North Dakota

Learn about North Dakota's no-fault and fault divorce procedures.

By , Attorney

No one enters a marriage believing that it could fail, but like it or not, some do. Ending any relationship is difficult, but the idea of pursuing a divorce can be overwhelming. You're not alone if you feel angry, stressed, or confused, but one of the best ways to keep your anxiety and emotions in check is to understand your state's divorce laws.

Every Divorce Requires Legal Grounds

All courts require divorcing couples to identify a legal ground to terminate the relationship. When you complete the application to dissolve the marriage, you'll need to include the specific reason for your request. In a handful of states, courts allow parties to pursue a fault divorce—meaning one spouse's actions during the marriage are the reason for the breakup. The specific "grounds" for each state vary, but the most common include desertion, addiction, and adultery.

Every state allows spouses to pursue some form of no-fault divorce, which courts usually base on incompatibility between the spouses. Couples will need to convince a judge that they can't get along, and there's no chance for reconciliation in the future. In some states, spouses may base their divorce on a separation for a specific period of time.

The most alluring feature of no-fault divorce—and the reason each state has adopted it—is that neither spouse is to blame for the failed marriage. When couples eliminate blame from the legal proceedings, they may be able to reduce conflict and resolve more divorce-related issues without much court intervention.

No-Fault Divorce in North Dakota

Divorcing couples in North Dakota have the option to file for a no-fault divorce to end their marriage. This legal process is one of the best ways to avoid the bitterness and mud-slinging that usually accompanies a breakup.

You can request a divorce even if your spouse disagrees, and you only need to demonstrate to the court that your marriage has suffered an irretrievable breakdown—meaning you've tried to work things out but there's nothing you can do to repair it. If you're willing to testify about your relationship in court, a judge will grant your request.

Blaming Your Spouse Might Not Be Worth the Trouble

Filing for a no-fault divorce is a fairly straightforward process, but sometimes, asking for a divorce based on your spouse's marital misconduct might be worth the extra trouble. If that sounds like it will fit your circumstances, you can request a fault divorce in North Dakota. Parties should be aware, however, that this legal process requires the alleging spouse to prove both that the other spouse committed the behavior and that the misconduct was the actual reason for the breakup.

Like no-fault divorce, you must identify the legal grounds for your request. North Dakota allows a spouse to file for a fault-based divorce for the following reasons:

  • adultery
  • extreme cruelty
  • willful desertion for at least one year
  • conviction of a felony
  • willful neglect for a minimum of one year, or
  • abuse of drugs or alcohol for at least one year.

Each ground has individual requirements before a court will grant the divorce based on the spouse's behavior. For example, before a judge will approve an application for divorce based on willful desertion, the alleging party must prove that the spouse left home voluntarily, with the intent to desert the marriage. Determining the purpose of your spouse's departure can be difficult, which is why no-fault divorce may be the best route for your divorce. Some examples of willful desertion include:

  • persistent refusal to have reasonable matrimonial intercourse, or
  • refusal of either party to live in the same home as a spouse, without reason.

To prove extreme cruelty during the marriage, you must show that your spouse's actions caused you significant mental suffering. It's not enough to make a general statement to the court, so be prepared to present evidence, like witnesses or medical records, that can back up your allegations.

As you can imagine, proving any of the grounds for fault divorce is complicated and may require hiring private investigators, counselors, doctors, or enlisting testimony from witnesses. Overall, if you choose to pursue a fault divorce, the cost will be higher, your time spent in court will increase, and your divorce may take longer to finalize.

A judge can also consider fault while deciding a property division agreement. If you believe you deserve more of the marital estate, or if you can prove that your spouse increased marital debt while committing misconduct, you can ask the court to consider these facts during the no-fault proceedings.

What If My Spouse Forgave My Misconduct?

Most states don't allow a spouse to defend a divorce petition, meaning if one party wants to end the marriage, the court will grant the request. But in North Dakota, when someone files for a fault divorce and the other spouse can prove condonation of that act, the court may deny the petition. Condonation is the conditional forgiveness for the action, so if you committed adultery and your spouse knew about the affair and forgave you anyway, the court can't grant the request for a fault divorce.

Condonation isn't a simple defense, and it's not enough to tell the court that your spouse forgave you. To be successful in your quest, you will need to meet the following requirements to convince the judge to deny the fault divorce:

  • your spouse knew about the marital misconduct
  • you reconciled after your bad behavior, and your spouse forgave you, and
  • your spouse restored all your matrimonial rights, meaning, living together, sleeping in the same bed, and marital intercourse.

Courts don't treat all misconduct the same for condonation. For instance, if your spouse filed for divorce based on your extreme cruelty, you would need to prove the above requirements and that your spouse made an express agreement of forgiveness towards you.

Divorce is intricate, especially when you add the layers of fault and forgiveness. If you're unsure whether you can meet the standards of proof for a fault divorce, it would be best to request a no-fault divorce, and avoid the added complications altogether.

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