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Legal Information: North Dakota


Laws current as of December 28, 2023

How will a judge make a decision about custody?

A judge will make a decision about custody based on what s/he thinks is in your child’s best interest. The judge will look at any factor that s/he thinks is important to make this decision, including:

  • the love, affection, and other emotional ties between the parents and the child;
  • the ability of each parent to nurture the child and give him/her love, affection, guidance, adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and a safe environment;
  • the child’s developmental needs and the ability of each parent to meet those needs, both now and in the future;
  • how stable and adequate each parent’s home environment is;
  • the impact of extended family;
  • the length of time the child has lived in each parent’s home;
  • the desirability of wanting to keep the child’s home and community the same as it has been;
  • the desire and ability of each parent to help make and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the other parent and the child;
  • how moral the judge thinks each parent is, as it impacts the child;
  • the mental and physical health of the parents, as that health impacts the child;
  • the home, school, and community records of the child and the potential effect to those areas of any change;
  • if the child is mature enough to decide what s/he wants, the judge may heavily consider the preference of the child; but the judge must also consider whether there are any factors/influences that may have affected the child’s preference;
  • evidence of domestic violence as defined by law – see Can a parent who committed domestic violence get residential responsibiilty? for more information;
  • the actual or potential relationship and interaction between the child and anyone who lives in or frequently comes to the parents’ households in relation to how it affects the child’s best interests. The judge will also consider that person’s history of abusing others or causing others to fear abuse;
  • whether either parent made false allegations of child abuse against the other parent; and
  • any other factors the judge thinks might be relevant to a particular child custody case.1

The judge must also take into effect the following factors:

  • for a victim of domestic violence, the fact that the abused parent suffers from the effects of the abuse cannot be grounds for denying that parent residential responsibility; and
  • for a parent who is in the military, the judge cannot consider a parent’s past deployment or possible future deployment in and of itself when determining the best interests of the child. The judge can consider, though, any significant impact on the best interests of the child that the parent’s past or possible future deployment had/will have on the child.2

Note: The judge may appoint a parenting investigator to talk to any person who may have information about the child and about any potential custody/visitation arrangements. The parenting investigator then issues a report to all parties. One or both parents may have to pay for the investigator’s services unless both parents are very low-income (“indigent”). In that case, the judge will issue an order that says the county where the child lives must pay the cost of the parenting investigator.3

1 N.D. Cent. Code §14-09-06.2(1)
2 N.D. Cent. Code §14-09-06.2(1)(j), (2)
3 N.D. Cent. Code § 14-09-06.3(1), (2), (4)