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North Dakota Divorce Laws – What You Need to Know!

It is not necessary for the plaintiff in a North Dakota divorce action to name his or her spouse to be at fault. The state allows for grounds of irreconcilable differences. At-fault divorces are also allowed on the following grounds:

  1. Extreme cruelty
  2. Adultery
  3. Willful desertion
  4. Willful neglect
  5. Abuse of drugs or alcohol
  6. Felony conviction of one spouse

As in every state, there are residency requirements when filing for a divorce in North Dakota. The plaintiff must be a resident of North Dakota for the six months prior to the filing of either a separation or divorce. However, a separation or divorce may still be granted by the courts if the plaintiff was in good faith residing in the state for the six-month period that immediately preceded the decree of divorce or separation being entered. The county with jurisdiction is the one where at least one of the parties lived when the divorce action was initiated.

Legal Separation Versus Divorce

The court views a legal separation much like a divorce. There can be many reasons why couples elect to separate, whether temporarily or permanently, but not divorce. Some may not want to divorce because of minor children or religious prohibitions against divorce; others may wish to continue to be eligible for their spouse’s health or retirement benefits. Still others may be hoping one day to reconcile with their spouse.

Under the laws of North Dakota, a judge may grant either a temporary or permanent separation order for any reasons that a divorce may be granted. The court can order spousal and child support payments, grant custody and visitation and order the equitable division of any assets and/or debts accrued by the couple during the marriage.


North Dakota courts retain a great deal of authority over mediation between separating or divorcing couples. Before an order is granted, modified or enforced having to do with the custody, visitation or support of a minor child wherein the issue is contested, the court can order the parties into mediation at their own expense. The exception to this mediation is if the custody, visitation or support issue involves possible sexual or physical abuse of any of the parties or of the children of the parties involved in the matter.

Child Custody Issues

When deciding whether to award primary custody to either the father or mother of the children, the court examines many factors. The best interests of the children are always paramount. The court considers the emotional ties, affection and love between the child and the parents and the capacity of both parents to give same to their children, as well as offer them guidance and continue their educational pursuits.

Courts consider each parent’s ability to provide their children with medical care, food, clothing, necessary remedial care in lieu of medical care and additional material benefits. A judge will assess the stability of a child’s environment, how long the child has lived with that stability and the importance of maintaining continuity in that area. The parents should be morally fit, and a judge can weigh the physical and mental health of the parents when deciding if the mother or father should get custody. Courts also have the discretion to look into the community, school and home records for the child.

When the child is older and possesses the intelligence, experience and understanding to state a preference regarding one’s living situation, the court can take that into consideration as well.

Any past history of domestic violence or the propensity for one parent to interact with, form a relationship with or allow someone to frequent the household where the child is living if that person could negatively impact the child’s best interest or otherwise harm them would be considered very negatively by the court.

Because a separation or divorce can be more complex than most people can handle on their own, it is always a good idea to retain the services of a North Dakota family law attorney.

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