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Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Divorce?

The divorce process is a complicated affair that is often done with help from attorneys. Do I need lawyer to file for divorce? Find the answer here.

Divorce takes second place as one of life’s most stressful events. Holding the number one spot is moving house. Ironically, at least one or both parties move during a divorce.

One of the first questions people ask is, “Do I need a lawyer to file for divorce?” The short answer is no. A better question is, why wouldn’t you want a knowledgeable attorney on your side?

Divorce is complicated. If you want to learn family law, court rules, and court procedures to navigate the divorce court system, forms for do-it-yourself divorce are available through the North Dakota Supreme Court.

We hope you’ll take the time to read what is involved in a divorce and why hiring an attorney ensures you receive an equitable settlement. 

Do You Understand the Basics?

Eligibility for a divorce requires you to be a North Dakota resident for at least six months before obtaining a final divorce decree. Only the filing spouse needs to meet the residency requirement.

Your divorce petition must specify why you want the divorce and whether you request a no-fault or at-fault divorce.

No-fault is when the only reason for requesting a divorce is irreconcilable differences. This means you and your spouse disagree to the extent that resolving the differences and preserving the marriage is impossible. You do not have to prove your spouse did something wrong to cause the divorce.

At-fault is when you are requesting a divorce for one of the following reasons:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse by your spouse
  • Adultery: your spouse is unfaithful
  • Cruelty: your spouse is causing you serious emotional suffering or bodily injury
  • Desertion:
    • your spouse refusing intercourse for a year
    • your spouse’s refusal to live in the same home for a year
    • you are amicably separated; one of you wants to reconcile, and the other refuses
  • Incarceration: spouse is in a state or federal prison for a felony
  • Neglect: your spouse refuses to provide for everyday necessities of life

In North Dakota, the judge may deny a divorce due to condonation, which means voluntarily overlooking or forgiving an offense. This may be assumed if you file for divorce and then continue to live with your spouse, especially if it is an at-fault divorce.

If you intend to continue living with your spouse after filing for divorce, consult your divorce attorney to ensure you are not jeopardizing your divorce case.

If You Have Minor Children

This is one of the most stressful areas to resolve because each parent is battling to get the most time with their children. Custody impacts finances by playing a part in determining who pays and who receives child support and the amount.

There are four types of custody in North Dakota. You need to understand the pros and cons of joint and sole custody options and agree on what is in the children’s best interest.

Once you have a custody agreement, you must decide how much time the other parent will have the children under their care. These two decisions impact the child support amount.

Child support must comply with the Child Support Guidelines the North Dakota Department of Human Services established.

Calculations require the submission of forms providing financial information for both parties. The information is entered into the child support calculator, and adjustments are made to that amount for parenting time and the child’s medical insurance or expenses.

Guidelines are updated regularly, with the latest on July 1, 2023. Ensure you use the latest guidelines, forms, and calculations when handling your divorce.

DIY Forms

Fill-in-the-blank forms aren’t available for every situation. If your situation is not on one of the forms the ND Supreme Court provides, you will need to prepare legal pleadings from scratch.

When preparing pleadings, you must follow the North Dakota Rules of Civil Procedure for formatting the pleadings, filing, service of the other party, and filing the proof of service for the documents to be valid.

If forms are available for your situation, you need to read through and select the proper form based on whether you should file a petition for a contested or uncontested divorce, if there are minor children, and marital asset value.

When handling a divorce on your own, The North Dakota Supreme Court recommends you review the following statutes to make sure you comply with all requirements:

  • North Dakota Century Code
    • Chapter 14-05
    • Chapter 14-09
    • Chapter 14-14.1
  • North Dakota Rules of the Court
    • Rule 8.1
    • Rule 8.2
    • Rule 8.3
    • Rule 8.4
    • Rule 8.5
  • North Dakota Rules of Civil Procedure

If the requirements feel overwhelming, you need a divorce lawyer.

The Divorce Court Process

If you and your spouse agree on all issues, you can file paperwork to finalize the uncontested divorce. The judge will determine if your settlement meets all court and legal requirements, and if approved, your divorce is granted.

Most divorces are contested, meaning there are unresolved issues. The following steps are necessary to complete the divorce:

  • File your petition for divorce
  • Follow the steps to have the petition served on your spouse
  • File the proof of service
  • Spouse answers the petition in writing
  • Discovery
  • Settlement negotiations
  • Trial
  • Judge issues divorce decree

A divorce attorney knows your legal rights and how to prepare pleadings, conduct discovery, and present your case in court.

Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Divorce?

The answer is no, but yes for emotional stability and financial security. An experienced divorce attorney is familiar with the divorce process and has the legal know-how to protect your legal rights.

While you and your spouse ride the emotional divorce roller coaster, your lawyer can look at things objectively and provide steady guidance in conflict areas. Negotiations can be complex. If your spouse has an attorney, you are battling a pro and need a pro.

Your attorney will look out for you financially and ensure an equitable settlement. Their knowledge of the law regarding the appropriate division of all debts and assets, including retirement funds, will put you in the best position after the divorce.

Request a Case Evaluation

Knowing the answer to “Do I need a lawyer to file for divorce?” and the benefits of hiring one, contact Heartland Law Office. We’re knowledgeable about asset division, child support, custody, and parenting time.

Learn how we can help by requesting an in-person or virtual case evaluation or calling (701) 587-8423 for immediate assistance.