Going through a divorce can be a draining process, both emotionally and financially. But couples can save money, time, and stress by filing an "uncontested divorce" in North Dakota—as long as they can cooperate, communicate, and work out the legal and practical issues before they file for divorce.
This article explains the process in North Dakota for getting an uncontested divorce, as well as an alternate "summary proceeding" for some couples who are close to a full agreement when they file.
North Dakota has three basic types of divorce proceedings, depending on the circumstances of your case: uncontested divorce, summary divorce, and contested divorce.
In North Dakota, uncontested divorce is designed as a method of obtaining a do-it-yourself divorce, without hiring lawyers. You may use the forms and process for uncontested divorce whether or not you have minor or dependent children with your spouse, and regardless of the type or value of your property. However, by the time you file the initial divorce petition (known as a "complaint"), you and your spouse must have a complete, written settlement agreement that covers all of the issues in your divorce, including:
You must also meet the state's residency requirement for all divorces: The spouse initiating the divorce proceedings (referred to as the "plaintiff") must have lived in the state for the past six months. There's no residency requirement for the other spouse (known as the "defendant" in North Dakota, even in uncontested divorces).
Finally, because you must currently be in communication with your spouse, you can't use the uncontested divorce process if there's a domestic violence protection order or disorderly conduct restraining order in effect against either of you. Even without such an order, the uncontested process might not be suitable for you if you've experienced domestic violence in your marriage.
If you and your spouse haven't managed to reach an agreement about all of your divorce issues, that doesn't necessarily mean that you have to go through a traditional contested divorce—which can entail multiple court hearings, formal discovery, and a lot of legal fees. North Dakota offers a simpler option known as summary divorce—if you meet the qualifications (discussed later in this article).
Before filing for an uncontested divorce, you and your spouse should read through all of the instructions that come with the special forms for an uncontested divorce, which you can download from the North Dakota Courts Legal Self-Help Center for Divorce. (There are separate packets of forms, depending on whether you have children.) The instructions and forms will explain everything that must be included in your settlement agreement and the other forms. As part of the process, you'll need to compile a list of all of your assets and debts, along with their value.
In addition to the settlement agreement, you will need to prepare a number of other forms, including:
Be sure not to leave any blanks on the forms, since that could mean the court will send the forms back, or the judge will require you to appear in person to explain the omissions.
Note that you also have the option of using an online divorce service, which will complete the proper forms for you once you've filled out a questionnaire. Many of these services will guarantee that the court will accept the forms, so you won't have to worry about making mistakes or missing a form.
If you are the plaintiff, you will need to sign and date all of the forms and get your spouse's signature on some of them. (Note that some forms will require signing in front of a notary public or court clerk.) You and your spouse should each keep a complete copy of the entire set. You won't have to hire a process server, because your spouse will have signed an "admission of service" as part of the package of forms.
Take the original of the signed forms to the Clerk of Court's office in the county where you live and ask to have them filed. You will need to pay a filing fee ($80 in 2021). However, there's no need for your spouse to file an answer in an uncontested divorce (which would normally require an extra fee), so you can decide to split the filing fee. Also, you can apply for a fee waiver if you can't afford it.
With an uncontested divorce, you generally won't have to go to court to finalize the proceeding. Typically, the judge will simply review your paperwork, approve it, and sign the final judgment, along with the "Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order for Judgment" (both of which will be included in the forms packet that you filed). Once you file these signed forms with the court, your divorce will be final.
However, if something doesn't seem right with your settlement or other documents, you and your spouse might be required to attend a hearing before the judge makes a final decision.
North Dakota's version of "summary divorce" (unlike divorce procedures in some other states that use the same term) is intended for couples who haven't agreed on all of the issues before they start the legal divorce process, but have relatively uncomplicated cases and are close to a comprehensive agreement.
In order to be eligible for the summary divorce process in North Dakota, you and your spouse may not own more than $50,000 in assets (not counting up to $100,000 in the value of your family home). The expectation is that you will reach a settlement agreement during the process, generally with the help of mediation. In some cases, you might choose to get a lawyer's help with negotiating or drafting the agreement—or at least to review the agreement to make sure that it protects your rights.
The summary divorce procedure can be especially helpful if the sticking point in your case is around custody issues. That's because, once you've filed for divorce, you'll be eligible for referral to the North Dakota Courts' Family Law Mediation Program, which provides up to six hours of free mediation on custody and parenting issues. (N.D. Rules of Court, rules 8.1, 8.5 (2021).)
There is no formal discovery in a summary divorce proceeding, and generally you will only have to attend one informal court hearing. You can find the forms and instructions for summary divorce along with the uncontested divorce forms at the North Dakota Courts Legal Self-Help Center.