Step 1. Grounds
The process (steps) for each divorce is going to be very different for each marriage. Some will be longer with more steps and others will be shorter. Uncontested divorces are usually much shorter than contested divorces.
Each divorce case will be different. However, the following steps are pretty general and are part of many divorce processes. You will likely encounter many of these steps, if not all of them.
You must have grounds to get a divorce in North Dakota. See What are the grounds for divorce?
Step 2. File your petition
If you have a lawyer, s/he will handle this for you. Your lawyer will fill out all the appropriate forms and file them in the appropriate court. If you cannot afford an attorney, you may be able to get low cost representation from organizations that provide free or low-cost legal representation. To locate one of these organizations near you, visit our ND Finding a Lawyer page.
If you do not have an attorney, you may be able to use forms, fill them out, and file them yourself. The clerk of court (courthouse official in charge of records) in the county where you are filing may have some of the forms that you will need. To find the clerk’s office in your county, go to our Courthouse Locations page.
If you do not have any children and your divorce is going to be uncontested, you can use a form provided by the North Dakota Supreme Court to file for divorce. (Download Court Forms). Your spouse will also need to sign some of these forms.
There are also do-it-yourself packages from office supply stores and online document delivery services. You can also find links to companies offering do-it-yourself kits on our National Resources page. Please note that WomensLaw.org has not reviewed any of these forms, and we do not know whether or not they will be helpful or even forms that your court will accept.
Once you’re ready to turn your forms into the court, give them to the clerk of court in the county where you are filing for divorce. To find the clerk’s office in your county, go to our Courthouse Locations page.
It is usually helpful to have an attorney to help you with everything you can. If you cannot afford to pay an attorney to handle your entire divorce or get help from a free or low-cost legal resource, you may want to consider paying an attorney to look over your forms and give you advice on how to revise and file them.
Step 3. Service of process
After you file your petition, your spouse will have to be served with a copy of your petition. Being served means giving the papers to your spouse to let him know that you have filed for divorce and that s/he needs to come to court if s/he wants to contest it or be involved in it. The whole point is that you give your spouse “notice” of the divorce, which just means that s/he knows that you have filed for divorce from him/her. If you do not know where your spouse is, there are other alternatives. If you are having trouble serving your spouse, it is highly recommended that you get a lawyer. To find one in your area, visit our ND Finding a Lawyer page.
You do not have to serve the papers on your spouse yourself. You can contact the local sheriff’s office to find out exactly how to get someone to serve your spouse. Often the sheriff’s department can serve your spouse themselves. You may also be able to get a constable or a private process server to serve your spouse. Do not attempt to serve the papers yourself if your spouse has ever been abusive to you.
You can find more information about service of process in our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section, in the question called What is service of process and how do I accomplish it?
Step 4. Your spouse answers
After your spouse has been served, s/he must file an answer within 21 days or else you can file a motion for a default judgment.1 If s/he does not answer, a judge will usually give you what you asked for in your petition. This is called a default judgment. If s/he answers and agrees with everything, then also you get what you asked for. This is an uncontested divorce. If one of these two things happens, you usually skip to Step 7. If s/he does disagree with something, then your divorce is a contested divorce and continue to Step 5.
Step 5. Discovery and settlement attempts
This is basically where both sides share information and try to reach some sort of agreement without actually having to go to court to have a judge decide. If you and your spouse reach an agreement here, you can submit that agreement to the judge. The judge may call an informal hearing to make sure both of you understand the agreement. If the judge approves of the agreement, s/he can issue a divorce decree. If you settle with your spouse here, then you can skip to Step 7. If you don’t settle here, go to the next step. You can find more information on discovery in our Preparing for Court - By Yourself section.
Step 6. Trial
You only do this step if you and your spouse cannot agree on a final settlement. If you go to trial, then both sides will present evidence and argue for what they want. The judge will then decide what s/he thinks is fair and then issue a divorce decree containing his/her orders. Trials can be difficult without the help of an attorney.
Step 7. Judge issues divorce decree
After you and your spouse either reach an agreement or the judge hears both sides at trial, the judge will issues a divorce decree. This is a document that says that you and your spouse are now legally divorced and orders a division of property and other relief.