Filing for divorce can be emotional and frustrating. However, an uncontested divorce is a popular option for couples who want to end their marriage without spending a lot of money on attorney's fees. It also appeals to people who wish to part ways without unnecessary hostility or anger. Although there is no specific, expedited divorce process available in North Dakota, an uncontested divorce can proceed relatively quickly if both spouses agree on all the essential points.
Like all states, North Dakota allows people to file for a "no-fault" divorce—which will enable spouses to end their marriage without getting into all the reasons for the divorce. Instead of assigning blame to one side (a fault divorce), the parties merely state that they have "irreconcilable differences." (N.D. Cent. Code § 14-05-03.) Irreconcilable differences is a fancy way of saying that you and your spouse no longer get along, and despite your efforts, there's no chance for reconciliation. (N.D. Cent. Code § 14-05-09.1.)
In addition to providing a reason for your divorce, the filing party, known as the plaintiff, must have lived in North Dakota for at least six months before filing the complaint. (N.D. Cent. Code § 14-05-17.)
Filing for divorce
In North Dakota, the procedure for filing an uncontested divorce follows the same pattern as a contested or traditional divorce case. First, the plaintiff must file a Summons and Complaint with the local court. When you bring the documents to the court, you should prepare to pay a filing fee. If you can't afford to pay, you can formally request the court to waive your fees by filing an application for a fee waiver.
Serving your spouse
Next, you'll need to serve (give a copy) the paperwork to your spouse. In North Dakota, you have several options for delivering the paperwork to your spouse. First, you can ask a local sheriff or friend over the age of 18 to personally deliver the documents. If hand-delivery isn't possible, you can send the paperwork through certified mail. Your spouse can also complete an "admission of service," which eliminates the service requirement altogether.
You can find forms and instructions on how to properly serve your spouse on the State of North Dakota Court website.
Scheduling a hearing
Once you've served your spouse, the court will set an initial hearing date. Although there is no specific time frame for an uncontested divorce in North Dakota, it is possible to wrap up a simple divorce within a couple of months, depending on the court's schedule and the parties' ability to compromise quickly.
At this point, an uncontested divorce in North Dakota differs from a contested action. If the parties have agreed on all the outstanding issues in their case, they do not have to appear before the judge. Instead, they can file an Affidavit of Proof for Stipulated Judgment with the court. By "stipulating" to the divorce, the parties acknowledge that they agree on everything, including child custody, child support, spousal support, and property division. If there are any lingering questions or disputes over the issues in the case, the couple cannot file a stipulated divorce.
Along with the stipulation, the parties must also file documents setting forth how they wish to divide their assets and assign parenting time and custody rights. These forms include:
Parties interested in representing themselves can obtain uncontested divorce forms for free from the North Dakota Supreme Court's website. Additionally, individual counties might require other forms regarding health insurance and child support.
Unless the judge has questions about any of the information or conditions contained in the documents, the parties are not required to attend the hearing. If the court finds everything in order, the judge can grant your divorce right away.
Once the court approves the stipulated agreement, it becomes a binding and enforceable contract. Because you can't change the terms of the agreement once the divorce is final, parties with complex financial issues might require the assistance of a family law attorney or mediator to help them agree on property division and other contentious areas. For people with relatively minimal assets and no children, however, stipulating to an uncontested divorce can save time, money, and frustration.
If you still have questions about the uncontested divorce process or filing for divorce, you should contact a local family law attorney.