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In 2021, North Dakota ranked in the top 20 states with the highest divorce rate. Based on a CDC report, there were 2.9 divorces per 1,000 people in the state, close to Colorado’s 3.0 divorce rate, ranked 15th nationwide.

There are occasions when filing for divorce becomes inevitable due to irreconcilable and irreparable differences between the couple. Both spouses mutually agree, or one has decided to end the marriage.

Divorce can be a very complex process for an individual to undergo. This article offers relevant information to help North Dakotans get through the legal procedure. It also provides legal resources and answers frequently asked questions about dissolving marriages.

Divorce vs. Annulment vs. Legal Separation in North Dakota

Divorce is a court judgment that dissolves a marriage. It ends a legally valid marriage, and it may be granted even if neither spouse was married in North Dakota. 

Annulment, on the other hand, declares that the marriage is void or invalid. It also concludes a marriage that should not have been recognized from the beginning. An annulment may not be granted unless the petitioner provides proof of the following legal grounds for this legal action:

  • Underage: one or both spouses are underage or under 16 at the time of the ceremony.

  • Polygamy or bigamy.

  • Mental incapacity: One party is mentally unfit to consent to the marriage.

  • Fraud.

  • Duress or coercion into marriage.

  • Physical incapacity: One spouse is unable to fulfill their obligations to the other spouse.

  • Incest.

Legal separation does not fully dissolve a marriage. The spouses are required to resolve property division, child support and custody, and alimony issues. They may be legally separated, but they are not free to marry other people.

Is North Dakota a No-Fault State When It Comes to Divorce?

North Dakota is both a fault-based and a no-fault divorce state. In fault-based petitions, the complainant must prove legal grounds for divorce, such as adultery, extreme cruelty, willful desertion and neglect, substance abuse, and felony conviction. In no-fault divorces, the petitioner only needs to claim that irreconcilable differences exist in the marriage; he or she does not need to prove that the other party did something wrong to cause the divorce.

How to File for Divorce in North Dakota

There are two ways to obtain a divorce in North Dakota. The first option is to file for an uncontested divorce. In an uncontested divorce, both spouses declare in writing that they agree to terminate their marriage legally. They must complete all the required forms and submit them accordingly. If everything is in order in the filing of every document, the court will grant the divorce.

If a couple disagrees on anything in their divorce, such as property division and financial support, they will file for a contested divorce. Filing for a contested divorce is also required if the petitioner is unable to locate his or her spouse. 

In a contested divorce, the court schedules a trial and decides on the unresolved issues. This means that the process for contested divorces is more complicated than for uncontested divorces and professional legal advice is needed. 

1. File the Divorce Petition

Whether you’re going to have a contested or uncontested divorce will determine the amount of paperwork and steps you need to complete in your divorce application. Another factor that affects the length and complexity of the procedure is whether you and your spouse have minor children.

Also, keep in mind first that you must meet the state’s residency requirements before the court can issue a divorce decree. This means that you must have lived in North Dakota for at least six months prior to filing your petition for divorce or immediately before the court grants the divorce. 

Filing the divorce petition involves filling out forms and submitting them to the clerk of court. Divorce forms can be downloaded from the North Dakota Self-Help Center. Once you’ve filled out the forms, you must file them in the North Dakota State District Court where your spouse (the defendant) lives. If your spouse lives in another state, you can file the papers in the county of your residence.

2. Serve the Divorce Petition to Your Other Spouse

Once you’ve filed the divorce petition in court, your spouse must be served with a copy of the document. This also serves as notice that you’ve filed for divorce. 

You are not required to deliver the petition yourself. You may contact the local sheriff’s office for assistance in getting the paper to your spouse. Having a professional server or someone authorized by law deliver the petition to the defendant is recommended if there’s a history of spousal abuse in the marriage.

The service process is an important step in a divorce. You must comply with the service requirements, including having proof of service; otherwise, the court will not take action on your petition.

3. Wait for Your Spouse’s Answer

If your spouse has been served with a copy of the divorce petition, they must submit an answer within 21 days. The response must indicate whether they agree with the divorce petition. If your spouse does not answer within 21 days, you may file a motion for a default judgment

If the court grants the motion, the lawsuit may proceed without your spouse’s side being heard. The judge may grant the divorce by default and approve all the requests you stated in your petition, like property division, spousal support, and parenting arrangements. 

4. Undergo Discovery and Settlement Proceedings

This step involves sharing information and trying to reach an agreement without going to court. If an agreement is reached, the parties must submit the agreement to the judge, who then schedules an informal hearing to confirm that both parties understand the agreement.

5. Attend Trial and Wait for Divorce Judgment

If you and your spouse fail to reach an out-of-court marital settlement agreement, your divorce petition will go to trial. The judge will give each of you a chance to present your respective arguments and evidence. 

After hearing both sides, the judge will issue a decree stating that both parties are legally divorced. The judgment will also include details concerning how marital assets should be divided, who takes custody of the children, and other post-divorce matters.

How Property Is Divided in a North Dakota Divorce

Marital Property Distribution

In North Dakota, marital property is defined as any property or asset acquired during the marriage. It does not include personal gifts, inheritances, or property purchased with separate assets.

If the parties in the divorce disagree on how to divide the marital property and debt, the court will resolve the issue by applying the principle of equitable distribution. Rather than splitting the property down the middle, the judge will come up with a distribution plan that is fair according to each party’s needs and circumstances. 

Note that the court has the authority not only to distribute marital property in a divorce but also to redistribute it in the following situations:

  • If one party fails to disclose assets and debts in accordance with Supreme Court regulations.

  • If the court-ordered distribution is not complied with.

Marital Property Valuation

Both parties must agree on the valuation date for the property. If they cannot agree, the valuation date will be 60 days before the initially scheduled trial date. If there is a significant change in the value of the asset or debt between the valuation and trial dates, the court may adjust the valuation to come up with an equitable distribution.

If one party is covered only by the civil service retirement program or government pension system and the other party is a Social Security recipient, the court will apply the following steps to identify the marital portion of the government pension:

  1. Determine what the present value of the social security benefits would have been to the party enrolled in the government pension plan during the covered period.

  2. Subtract the amount obtained in Step 1 from the government pension’s total value.

North Dakota Divorce FAQs

Individuals seeking to end their marriages normally have questions and doubts in mind. This section provides answers to some of the most commonly asked questions when filing a divorce in North Dakota. 

Legal Resources for Getting a Divorce in North Dakota

State Bar Association of North Dakota

The State Bar Association of North Dakota has been promoting justice and serving the people and lawyers of North Dakota since 1899. It is the oldest unified state bar association in the country. Its Volunteer Lawyers Program provides reduced fees and pro bono assistance to qualified North Dakotans. It also provides a lawyer referral service to paying clients who need legal representation. SBAND’s office is at 1661 Capitol Way, Suite 104LL, Bismarck, ND 58501. Its contact number is (701) 255-1404.

Legal Services of North Dakota

The Legal Services of North Dakota is a nonprofit organization that provides legal assistance to elderly and low-income North Dakotans. Individuals who need legal services may apply online, in person, or by phone. LSND’s offices are in Belcourt, Grand Forks, Bismarck, Minot, Fargo, and New Town. Its contact numbers are 1-800-634-5263 for people under 60 and 1-866-621-9886 for individuals aged 60 and above.

Women’s Law

Women’s Law is a non-profit entity providing legal information to individuals of all genders since 2000. Its website contains state-specific legal resources and information about various matters, including divorce, child support and custody, parental kidnapping, and domestic violence. It also has a confidential email hotline that offers direct support to domestic violence survivors. The organization's national domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-7233.

North Dakota Collaborative Divorce Group

The North Dakota Collaborative Divorce Group advocates for couples who prefer an alternative to traditional divorce. It comprises attorneys, child specialists, financial professionals, and divorce coaches who protect a family’s well-being outside a court setting.

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