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How to File for Divorce in North Dakota

North Dakota Divorce decree

To file for divorce in North Dakota, you or your spouse must have resided in North Dakota for at least 6 months prior to beginning the process. Alternatively, if by the time the Judgment and Decree of divorce is entered, you will have been residents for 6 months, the Court may also exercise jurisdiction. Usually you will file in the District Court where you or your spouse lives.

What Is the Process of Filing for Divorce in North Dakota?

The Complaint, the Summons, and Grounds for Divorce

A divorce begins when one spouse serves the other with a Complaint, along with a Summons. A Complaint details the cause of action for divorce, sets forth the basic information about both parties, the marriage, any minor children, and makes certain "claims for relief." Claims for relief can include that the party wants an "equitable division of the marital assets and debts" or that the party believes he or she should have primary residential responsibility (custody) of the minor children.

To file for divorce, you must have grounds. Grounds for divorce in North Dakota are legally recognized reasons for the divorce. Like most states, North Dakota recognizes and the most commonly pleaded cause is "no-fault" divorce. This will appear in the pleadings as "irreconcilable differences."

Although North Dakota still recognizes more traditional, fault-based grounds for divorce, they are less common. Fault based grounds for divorce include adultery, extreme cruelty, willful desertion, willful neglect, abuse of alcohol or a controlled substance, conviction of a felony, and confinement for insanity for 5 years.

In most cases there is no need to claim any of these fault-based grounds for divorce. Fault-based grounds for divorce can unnecessarily complicate the proceedings and there is a higher burden of proof. Issues that can serve as a basis for fault-based divorces, such as abuse of alcohol, can come into play in no-fault divorces in other ways such as determining decision making, residential responsibility, and parenting time of minor children, or division of marital assets and debts.

Responding to a Complaint - the Answer and Counterclaim

When a party is served with a Summons and Complaint for divorce, they have 21 days to prepare and serve an Answer and Counterclaim. An Answer must either admit or deny each and every paragraph in the Complaint. If a particular paragraph is not answered, it can be deemed to be admitted. Someone served with a Complaint for divorce should not ignore the issue and hope it will go away and should not fail to prepare and serve a formal answer. Even if the parties believe a settlement agreement will eventually be reached, the party served with the initial Complaint can preserve any issues or claims in case negotiations fail or an agreement is not reached. If an Answer and Counterclaim is not served, the Plaintiff could move for a Default Judgment.

It is extremely important that you prepare, serve, and file your Answer and Counterclaim within the 21 day time window you are allowed. Do not delay in contacting and retaining an attorney if you have been served.

Reaching an Agreement

In an uncontested divorce, when the parties agree on almost everything or they have reached an agreement prior to the Summons and Complaint being served, one of the documents filed with the court will be a Marital Termination Agreement. This document identifies and outlines the division of assets and debts, decision making, residential responsibility and parenting time for any children, and can also include a detailed parenting plan. The judge will review everything to make sure it is in order, sign a document called the Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order for Judgment, and then the clerk of court will enter the Judgment and Decree of Divorce. Marital Termination Agreements are much more detailed than the Complaint or Answer and Counterclaim.

If the parties are not initially in agreement, but reach an agreement either through their attorneys negotiating or through mediation, a Marital Termination Agreement is then executed and filed.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the matter may proceed to trial.

Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Divorce in North Dakota?

You are legally permitted to represent yourself in any court proceeding. This includes in an action for divorce.

However, you should hire an attorney to guide you through the complex, confusing, and sometimes chaotic divorce process.

Any divorce will require that you research the law, gather documentation, follow court rules and procedures, meet court deadlines, and follow through with court filings and appearances. You also need an even temperament to deal with the roller coaster of emotions you will experience during your divorce.

One of the primary benefits of working with a skilled and experienced North Dakota divorce lawyer is that your attorney will give you advice based on years of experience handling similar cases. The attorney can guide you as to deadlines, dates, and court processes and procedures that can be overwhelming.

A lawyer can also advise you about long-term financial implications of divorce such as tax consequences, or the benefits (and detriments) of keeping the house. A lawyer can come up with proposed parenting time schedules or parenting plans and help you address common post-divorce, co-parenting issues that parties may face.

Without a lawyer you will also be at a disadvantage if you need to convince the court about things like property division, child custody, or spousal support.

Even if you are seeking an uncontested divorce, you still risk making costly, time-consuming mistakes during the filing process if you proceed without an attorney.

How Much Does a Divorce in North Dakota Cost?

It depends and it widely varies. Although this answer is frustrating, it is the most accurate. The least expensive option in North Dakota is an uncontested divorce, where you and your spouse agree on almost everything. At the other end of the spectrum is a contested divorce where the couple can’t agree on much of anything. In a contentious divorce such as this, lawyers may have to file various motions, restraining orders, and will probably engage the services of multiple experts, which can include appraisers and parenting investigators.

Two primary drivers of the cost of divorce are: (1) whether children are involved; and (2) how long the divorce process takes.

Unsurprisingly, when children are involved, divorce generally lasts longer and, therefore, is more expensive. This is primarily due to the fact that child custody disputes are typically emotionally charged and, therefore, the most difficult to resolve. Other cost drivers that can be out of a party's individual control include the opposing party's responsiveness to settlement proposals, discovery requests, motions, and overall cooperativeness.

How Can You Control Costs for the Divorce in North Dakota?

You can be prepared. Gather documents and information for your attorney. Have your demographic information (full names, dates of birth, etc), tax returns, financial documents, notes, and any other documents that may be relevant to the divorce process ready and available for your attorney at your initial meeting.

The more you and your spouse can agree on, the less expensive your divorce will be. Of course, you’re getting divorced, so some amount of disagreement is to be expected.

A more contentious divorce means more motions and court filings that your attorney will bill you to prepare. A contentious divorce means more time in court and on the phone with opposing counsel. The more issues that are disputed, the more your attorney will have to prepare you for hearings, prepare motions and affidavits, and eventually prepare for trial.

Your divorce is not the time to right old wrongs by fighting over every little detail. This will only result in higher legal bills, as your attorney will spend more time arguing over minor issues.

If You Are Considering Divorce in North Dakota, Contact an Experienced Family Law Attorney at Fremstad Law

At Fremstad Law, our mission is to move you forward through your divorce efficiently and effectively. If you are considering divorce in North Dakota, contact Fremstad Law family law attorney Lesley Foss. Call (701) 478-7620 or complete our online form.

The attorneys at Fremstad Law proudly represent people in and around Fargo, North Dakota, Valley City, North Dakota, and Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.