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Know the Laws: North Dakota

UPDATED December 17, 2015

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Please consider getting help from an organization in your area before proceeding with court action. To find an organization, please go to the Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page.

General information

back to topWhat is custody?

In North Dakota, custody is called "parental rights and responsibilities."  When a judge makes an order for parental rights and responsibilities, s/he will decide two basic things: "decision-making responsibility" and "residential responsibility."

Decision-making responsibility is the responsibility to make decisions concerning the child.  The term may refer to decisions on all issues or on specified issues, but not child support issues.*  Some types of decisions often included in this are:

  • where your child goes to school,
  • whether your child gets surgery, and
  • what kind of religious training your child receives.
Residential responsibility means a parent's responsibility to provide a home for the child.**  If a parent has more than 50% of the residential responsibility, s/he has "primary residential responsibility" and that parent may be referred to as the “custodial parent.”***

After a judge decides these things, it is all written down in a parenting plan, which describes each parent’s rights and responsibilities with respect to the child.****

* N.D.C.C. § 14-09-00.1(1)
** N.D.C.C. § 14-09-00.1(7)
*** N.D.C.C. § 14-09-00.1(6)
**** N.D.C.C. § 14-09-00.1(3)

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back to topWhat is a parenting plan and what does it include?

A parenting plan is a written plan describing each parent's rights and responsibilities.*

If you go to court for custody -- or to establish decision-making and/or residential responsibilities for your child, then you and the other parent may create a parenting plan that the judge will include as part of the court order.  If you and the other parent cannot agree on the terms of the parenting plan, the judge will make one for you based on what s/he thinks is in the best interest of the child.**

A parenting plan must address:

  • decision-making responsibilities for both routine day-to-day decisions and major decisions such as education, health care, and spiritual development;
  • information sharing about the child and access to the child, including telephone and email or other electronic access;
  • legal residence of a child for school attendance;
  • residential responsibility (where the child will live), parenting time and parenting schedule (time spent caring for the child), including holidays, vacations, birthdays, weekends, weekdays, and summers;
  • transportation and exchange of the child from one parent to the other, considering the safety of the parties;
  • procedures for reviewing and adjusting the parenting plan; and
  • methods for resolving disputes about the plan or the child.***

* N.D.C.C. § 14-09-00.1(3)
** N.D.C.C. § 14-09-30(1)
*** N.D.C.C. § 14-09-30(2)

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back to topWhat are some pros and cons of getting a parenting plan?

There are many reasons you might choose not to get a parenting plan from a judge regarding your child(ren).  You may decide not to get an order because you don't want to get the courts involved.  You may already have an informal agreement with the other parent that works well for you or you may think that going to court will provoke the other parent into seeking more time and more rights with your child than you want.

However, in some cases it is a good idea to get a parenting plan from a judge.  Having a court-ordered parenting plan might make it easier to deal with the other parent because the rights and responsibilities for each parent are stated clearly in the plan.  You will have to make this choice based on your particular situation.  A lawyer might be able to offer you advice about which choice is right for you.   To find a lawyer in your area, please see our ND Finding a Lawyer page.

If you decide to go to court and ask a judge to issue a parenting plan, then you may be able to get some specific things written into the plan so there is no confusion about which parent has which responsibilities.

If you go to court, a judge can give you (or the other parent):

  • the right to make decisions about your child;
  • the right to have your child live with only one parent or to have the child live with both parents; and
  • the responsibility to make child support payments or the right to receive child support payments.
It is important to note that without an order from a judge, parents may be considered to have equal rights to their child.

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back to topShould I start a court case to ask for supervised visitation?

If you are not comfortable with the abuser being alone with your child, you might be thinking about asking the judge to order that visits with your child be supervised.  If you are already in court because the abuser filed for visitation or custody, you may not have much to lose by asking that the visits be supervised if you can present a valid reason for your request (although this may depend on your situation).

However, if there is no current court case, please get legal advice BEFORE you start a court case to ask for supervised visits.  We strongly recommend that you talk to an attorney who specializes in custody matters to find out what you would have to prove to get the visits supervised and how long supervised visits would last, based on the facts of your case.

In the majority of cases, supervised visits are only a temporary measure.  Although the exact visitation order will vary by state, county, or judge, the judge might order a professional to observe the other parent on a certain amount of visits or the visits might be supervised by a relative for a certain amount of time -- and if there are no obvious problems, the visits may likely become unsupervised.  Oftentimes, at the end of a case, the other parent ends up with more frequent and/ or longer visits than s/he had before you went into court or even some form of custody.

In some cases, to protect your child from immediate danger by the abuser, starting a case to ask for custody and supervised visits is appropriate.  To find out what may be best in your situation, please go to ND Finding a Lawyer to seek out legal advice.

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WomensLaw.org would like to thank the North Dakota Council on Abused Women's Services/Coalition Against Sexual Assault in North Dakota and Legal Services of North Dakota for their assistance in compiling this material.

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