In a divorce, you dissolve a marriage and legally separate your life from your spouse's. It can be an uncomplicated legal transaction if you and your spouse agree on all terms, but even in simple divorce cases, North Dakota requires you to follow certain rules.
Divorcing Without an Attorney
You may represent yourself in divorce, but a lawyer can help ensure you correctly file the paperwork and follow all applicable state laws. Issues such as division of property can get complicated, especially as it concerns retirement accounts.
Fault vs. No-Fault Divorce
North Dakota allows both fault and no-fault divorces. In a no-fault divorce, you do not need to allege wrongdoing on the part of your spouse. You may simply cite irreconcilable differences.
In a fault divorce, you claim your spouse has done something to warrant the divorce. Possible fault grounds for divorce include:
- Extreme cruelty
- Conviction of a felony
You must cite the grounds in your initial filing, regardless of whether you choose no-fault or fault grounds.
Overview of the Divorce Process
Before you can file for divorce in North Dakota, you must have lived in the state for at least six months. If you meet this requirement, your first step is to file a Complaint for Divorce and a Summons with the court in the county where you live or where your spouse lives.
The Summons informs your spouse that you have filed for divorce and tells him or her how to respond. You must use the summons even if both of you agree you want the divorce. Other documents may depend on your specific circumstances and can include:
- Property and Debt Listing: This outlines the values of all your property and debts. It is used only if you and your spouse agree on these values.
- Marital Settlement Agreement: If you and your spouse have come to acceptable terms for your divorce on your own, you may use this form to notify the court of those terms.
Unlike many states, North Dakota does not impose a waiting period before your divorce can be finalized.
Distributing Property and Debt in North Dakota
The state requires equitable and fair distribution of all property and debts. If you and your spouse can come to a fair agreement on your own, the court is likely to approve it. If not, it will decide what is fair.
In making this decision, the court's initial presumption is that each spouse will receive an equal share, but it will consider arguments for why that would not, in fact, be equitable. The court can consider any factors about the marriage it finds relevant.
All property, both marital and non-marital, are subject to distribution if necessary. Marital property is that acquired during the marriage and must always be divided. Non-marital, or separate, property acquired before or during the marriage can also be distributed if that is the best way to make the end result fair. If you acquire property after separating from your spouse, it is generally not subject to distribution.
The court can redistribute property even after your divorce is final if it discovers that one of you did not fully disclose your finances and debts.
Help from a Divorce Lawyer
Depending on your particular situation, legally separating your life from your spouse's can get complicated. The information presented here cannot substitute for specific legal advice. A North Dakota divorce attorney can help protect your interests and those of your children.