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North Dakota Divorce Process
Preparing the Divorce Papers
North Dakota has one basic set of forms for pro se filers. The North Dakota Supreme Court's self-represented divorce forms index provides official forms, but a party should double-check with the local court where the case is filed to make sure the judges there accept them. Only spouses who agree on all terms of the divorce and who do not have any financially dependent minor children can use these forms. If the parties have minor children, or the spouses can't agree about the terms and conditions of their break up, the action is a contested divorce, and they cannot use the forms.
For those who can use the forms, however, North Dakota offers a simple, step-by-step set of instructions to walk the parties through their divorce. Completion of the forms depends, in part, on whether the spouse is the plaintiff (the person initiating the divorce) or the defendant (the person receiving the divorce papers).
The plaintiff completes the top part of the Summons (the bottom part will be filled in when the documents are filed), the Complaint, the Settlement Agreement, and the Property and Debt Listing form. The plaintiff also needs a copy of the Verification, but he or she should not complete and sign it except in front of a notary. The Settlement Agreement and Property and Debt Listing forms also have to be notarized.
Filing the Paperwork with the Court
The plaintiff files the divorce papers - the Summons, Complaint, Admission of Service, Affidavit of Proof, Settlement Agreement, and Property and Debt Listing - and pays a filing fee unless he or she completes the Petition for Order Waiving Fees and Financial Affidavit. The court must agree that the fee should be waived because the plaintiff cannot afford it. The court clerk can provide a copy of this petition.
The clerk files the papers and mails a letter that contains the case file number and the date of filing. A judge reviews the forms and decides if they can be approved immediately, or if a hearing is needed. If a hearing is needed, the plaintiff receives another letter from the clerk of court with a hearing date and a copy of some additional forms that must be completed and brought to the hearing. These will include Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order for Judgment and a Judgment or Redacted Judgment form. The redacted judgment form omits private information.
Serving the Documents
Sending the other spouse a copy of all the forms is called service of process, which ensures that everyone knows about the filing and has an opportunity to “appear,” or argue, his or her point of view.
The plaintiff should make two copies of the summons and complaint and send one copy of each to the defendant via the postal service or hand them over personally. The plaintiff needs to send the admission of service form to the other spouse, which he or she completes and returns to the plaintiff. The admission of service is proof that the other spouse knows about the divorce.
Next, the plaintiff should mail or give the other spouse the Settlement Agreement and Property and Debt Listing. The spouse must sign the same original document, and he or she should make a copy of the documents and return them to the plaintiff.
Disclosing Financial Information
Both spouses complete a property and debt listing form that each exchanges with the other. The Property and Debt Listing details each spouse’s financial picture, from employment and assets, to liabilities and monthly expenses. The form helps everyone to understand the full economic situation and reach a fair agreement.
Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce
Uncontested divorce is popular for couples that want to divorce without spending a lot of money on legal costs and part ways without unnecessary legal battle. An uncontested divorce can proceed relatively quickly if both spouses agree on all important points.
Like all states, North Dakota allows people to end their marriage without getting into all the reasons for the divorce. Instead of assigning blame to one side, the parties merely state that they have irreconcilable differences.
At the start, the procedure for an uncontested divorce follows the same trajectory as a contested case. The plaintiff files a Summons and Complaint and serves them on the defendant with the divorce papers. Once the defendant has been served, the court sets a hearing date. The couple can wrap up a simple divorce within a couple of months depending on the court's schedule and their ability to compromise quickly.
At this point, an uncontested divorce in North Dakota differs from a contested action. When the parties have agreed on all the outstanding issues, they do not have to appear before the judge. Instead, they can file an Affidavit of Proof for Stipulated Judgment. They acknowledge that they agree on everything. An uncontested divorce requires agreement from both sides; the couple cannot file a stipulated divorce when they have unresolved questions and issues.
Along with the Stipulation, the parties file documents setting forth how they wish to divide their assets and assign parenting time and custody rights as well as a Settlement Agreement, Property and Debt Listing Form and a Parenting Plan.
Parties interested in representing themselves can obtain an Affidavit of Proof for Stipulated Judgment form for free from the North Dakota Supreme Court's website. Additionally, individual counties might require other forms regarding health insurance and child support.
Unless the judge has questions about any of the information or conditions contained in the documents, the parties are not required to attend the hearing. If the judge finds everything in order, the divorce can be granted right away. Once the court approves the stipulated agreement, it becomes a binding, enforceable contract. Because the terms of the agreement cannot be changed once the divorce is final, parties with complex financial issues might require the assistance of a family law attorney or mediator to help them agree on property division and other contentious areas. For people with relatively minimal assets and no children, however, stipulating to an uncontested divorce can save time, money, and frustration.
If the case is contested, or if the parties have children, they will complete documents that are similar to the ones outlined above. For example, if the plaintiff needs to complete, file, and serve a Summons and Complaint regardless of whether he or she has children. The contents of the Summons and Complaint, however, may be different.
Finalizing the Divorce
It takes a minimum of 30 to 90 days to finalize a divorce in North Dakota.
In North Dakota, child custody may be awarded to either the father or the mother. The court determines the best interests and welfare of the child by evaluating a number of factors, including, but not limited to, the following: the love, affection, and other emotional ties existing between the parents and child, the capacity and disposition of the parents to give the child love, affection, and guidance and to continue the education of the child, the disposition of the parents to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, or other remedial care recognized and permitted under the laws of this state in lieu of medical care, and other material needs, and any other factors considered by the court to be relevant to a particular child custody dispute.
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