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Guide to North Dakota Spousal Support Laws

Divorced woman holding envelope with alimony

If you are considering divorce, you may also be thinking about how spousal support (also commonly known as alimony) comes into play. If you earn more money than your spouse, you might be worried about having to pay. If you earn less than your spouse, or have been a stay-at-home parent, you might be wondering if you will receive spousal support and, if so, how much. The answer, unfortunately, can’t be found in a blog post; too much depends on the facts and circumstances of your particular case. Even so, it’s worth taking a look at spousal support laws in North Dakota to learn what to expect.

North Dakota Century Code § 14-05-24.1 sets forth how and when spousal support is awarded in a divorce. The law gives the Court the authority to consider the circumstances of the parties and to require one divorcing spouse to pay spousal support to the other “for a limited period of time.” The law also specifically gives the Court the authority to modify spousal support orders. In other words, even if spousal support is initially ordered in your case, the Court may change the amount or duration if such a change is requested by one of the parties or the other.

What Do North Dakota Courts Consider When Awarding Spousal Support?

Unlike child support, there is no formula, calculator or guideline for how much spousal support, if any, will be awarded in North Dakota. How is spousal support calculated in North Dakota?

The Court considers a number of factors in deciding whether to award spousal support, how much, and how for long. The factors that guide the Court, known as the Ruff-Fischer Guidelines, also guide the Court in determining the division of marital assets and debts.  The factors are as follows:

  • the respective ages of the parties;
  • the parties’ respective earning ability;
  • the duration of the marriage;
  • conduct of the parties during the marriage;
  • the parties’ station in life;
  • the circumstances and necessities of each party;
  • the parties’ health and/or physical condition;
  • the parties’ financial circumstances as shown by the property owned at the time;
  • the value of property at the time (or the value of the property awarded to them in the divorce);
  • the income-producing capacity, if any, of the property awarded to them in the divorce;
  • whether property was/is accumulated before or after the marriage; and,
  • such other matters as may be material.

It’s easy to see that spousal support is more likely in a 30-year marriage where one spouse earns $150,000 per year and the other is a stay-at-home parent with health issues that prevent them from working. On the other hand, spousal support is a lot less likely in a five-year marriage in which both spouses are young, healthy, and employed (or have the potential to be employed).

Additionally, the Court will examine the need of the party requesting spousal support for such support by looking at their income and expenses.  The requesting party will need to present a list of expenses and their income.  Along with the need of the requesting party for spousal support, the Court will also look at the ability to pay spousal support by the party from whom the support is being requested.  The potential paying party will also have to prepare a list of their expenses and income. 

You may have noticed “the conduct of each spouse” factor in making alimony decisions. If, for example, one spouse committed adultery, or gambled away a lot of the couple’s assets, that could be held against them in determining spousal support.  If the adultery, however, did not involve use or dissipation of marital assets, it may be less likely to be a major factor in the Court’s consideration as to whether to award spousal support.

The facts and circumstances of each individual divorce case, however, are unique.  How a Court may weigh the various factors are also unique and what happens in one case is not always indicative of what may happen in another.

How Long Does Spousal Support Last?

The Court determines the duration of spousal support.  There are certain situations where spousal support automatically terminates. If the spousal support recipient gets remarried, for example, they’re required  to immediately provide notice to the payor of support. Spousal support is terminated as of the date of the remarriage.

Given this, you might expect that an ex-spouse receiving alimony might just decide to live with a romantic partner without getting married. The North Dakota legislature anticipated that also.  If a court determines that a person receiving spousal support has been habitually cohabiting with a romantic partner for a year or more “in a relationship analogous to a marriage,” it will terminate spousal support.

Different Types of Spousal Support

There is one other situation in which an alimony recipient’s remarriage or cohabitation will not terminate spousal support payments: if the spousal support is “rehabilitative.” Rehabilitative spousal support is designed to allow the recipient to “get back on their feet” and become self-supporting. If the support recipient has been out of the workforce, such as during a time period being a stay-at-home parent, they may need training or to accept a job that will not immediately allow them to support themselves. Rehabilitative spousal support is intended to bridge the financial gap.

Other types of spousal support in North Dakota are temporary (while the divorce case is going on) and permanent (which is paid after the divorce is final; despite the name, “permanent” alimony is usually for a limited time).

If you have questions about North Dakota spousal support that weren’t answered here, please contact Fremstad Law to schedule a consultation with a family law attorney.

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