Divorce & Separation

Annulment, divorce, and legal separation are the three most common methods of ending a marriage.  An annulment is a dissolution of an invalid marriage.  A divorce is a court proceeding which terminates the marriage relationship, resolving such issues as custody, property distribution, spousal support, child support, and other economic issues.  A separation is a legal alternative to divorce, and is generally used for temporary arrangements, or when religious or economic reasons make it preferable to divorce.  Although one may attempt to wade through these complex issues without an attorney, it is highly recommended to engage the services of an attorney, as the relevant law can be fairly complex, and an attorney may be able to better advocate for various terms that will be favorable to a particular party. 

A divorce is initiated in the same manner as any other civil proceeding:  the plaintiff services and files a summons and complaint as plaintiff, after which the other party, the defendant, serves and files an answer.  Unlike most civil proceedings, neither party needs to prove any wrongdoing took place in order to proceed with the divorce.  Rather, a divorce may be granted upon one of the several fault-based grounds or by “irreconcilable differences,” which is the most common. 

Before a final order for divorce or custody is issued, an Interim Order may be used.  This is a temporary order designed to deal with economic, custody, and other issues relevant to the two parties, and lasts until the court proceeding is completed. 

Generally, the parties can reach a settlement as to some or all of the terms of the divorce judgment.  Those that cannot be mutually agreed upon must be adjudicated before a judge.  After all the issues have been decided, a judge will sign the appropriate documents, and the action will be finalized.  If either party fails to comply with the judgment, that party may be held liable for contempt, and punished within the discretion of the presiding judge. 

North Dakota law requires a “fair, just, and equitable” division of property when determining how property will be divided.  Alimony may be available to a spouse in need of financial support.  Bills and debts will also be divided, and it is worth noting that creditors may not be bound by the terms of the divorce judgment.  There are no hard and fast rules for any of these elements of division, and each situation is decided on a case by case basis.