Divorce Law in the State of North Dakota

by Elizabeth Rayne
The court may decide the terms of the divorce.

The court may decide the terms of the divorce.

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Divorcing couples in North Dakota should familiarize themselves with the procedures and rules for getting a divorce in the state. Couples may come to their own agreement on the terms of the divorce, including spousal support, property division, parental responsibilities and child support. However, when couples cannot agree, it will be up to the courts in North Dakota to decide.

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Requirements for Divorce

In order to get a divorce in North Dakota, you must meet the residency requirements and have grounds for divorce. Although both spouses do not need to be residents of the state, the person who files the petition for divorce must have lived in the state for at least six months by the time the court finalizes the divorce. The state allows couples to divorce on both fault and no-fault grounds. Fault grounds include adultery, cruelty, desertion and abuse of alcohol or drugs. However, you may lose your ability to file on fault grounds based on condonation, meaning that you accepted your spouse on the condition that he stop committing the marital misconduct, such as adultery, and he has not committed the act again. However, you may also divorce on the no-fault ground of irreconcilable differences.

Property Distribution

As part of the divorce proceedings, the court will divide marital property and debt between the spouses. North Dakota is an equitable distribution state, meaning that the court will look at a number of factors to determine what would be a fair way to divide the property. The court has a lot of discretion in deciding what is "fair," but generally will consider the financial circumstances of each spouse, length of the marriage, age and health of each spouse, and conduct of each spouse during the marriage.

Spousal Support

If the court finds that one spouse is financially disadvantaged, it may award spousal support, also known as alimony, to that spouse. In North Dakota, spousal support may be rehabilitative, meaning it serves to help the spouse transition to financial independence. A spouse may instead be awarded permanent support if the court finds that, due to opportunities lost during the course of the marriage, the spouse does not have the ability to become financially independent.

Parental Rights and Responsibilities

North Dakota law refers to custody as parental rights and responsibilities. The courts distinguish between decision-making responsibility and residential responsibility, which refers to where the child lives. The parents may share decision-making or residential responsibilities, or one parent may have both. If the parents cannot agree, the court will establish a parenting plan, which outlines which parent makes which decisions for the child, the schedule for when each parent spends time with the child, and methods for resolving disputes. North Dakota courts will determine custody based on the best interest of the child and consider factors such as the ability of each parent to take care of the child, stability of each parent's home and the needs of the child.

Child Support

North Dakota calculates child support by considering the income of the parent who does not have primary residential responsibilities, meaning the parent who spends less than 50 percent of the year with the child. Based on the nonresidential parent's income and number of children, the court will refer to the statutory schedule to determine the child support amount. The amount may be lowered based on time the parent spends with the children. If the parents equally share residential responsibilities, courts will consider the income and support obligation of both parents and then subtract the lesser obligation from the higher to determine how much the parent with more income must pay in support.

Change in Legislation

North Dakota residents may be aware of a Senate bill which proposed a one-year waiting period before a divorce may be finalized. The bill would also require couples to undergo counseling before getting a divorce. The bill had not passed, as of December 2012. The legislature began a study to determine how the state's divorce laws should be reformed.