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Important Divorce Terms to Know and Understand

Many divorce terms have an important bearing on your case and can have a material impact on your life. Discover some of the key terms and what they mean.

No matter the reason, going through a divorce is typically a messy and painful experience for both sides. According to recent statistics, approximately 689,308 divorces occurred in the United States in 2021.

Before you enter into a divorce settlement, there are some crucial divorce terms that you should know.

Read on to learn more about these important terms, what they mean, and how they could impact your life both during and after your divorce.


You’re probably familiar with the word alimony, but what does it mean? This term refers to a payment made by a supporting spouse to a dependent spouse once the divorce is finalized.

Alimony ensures that the dependent receives enough money to maintain the same standard of living they had before the divorce. The terms of alimony vary per state based on the law and can be paid out in different ways.

For example, alimony from a divorce in North Dakota may be ordered to be paid as a lump sum, or it could be paid out in increments. Always talk to your attorney to determine what the terms of your alimony agreement will be.

Child Custody and Child Support

These divorce terms refer to what happens to children after a divorce. Custody refers to which parent will have legal control and power over their children, where the child will live, and visitation schedules. Some divorces grant one parent complete custody, while others may grant both parents “joint custody.”

Child support refers to payments made by one parent to the other to help support the minor child or children. Not all child support payments are equal. The amount one parent pays may depend on how many nights each parent has with the child, the monthly gross income of each parent, child-care costs, healthcare coverage costs, and other factors.

For divorce in North Dakota, you must complete child support calculations, even if you’re not establishing child support. The judge decides whether or not it is in the best interest of the child to waive any child support payments. 

If you need to pay a different amount of child support, then you must prove that you meet certain specific exceptions. You’ll also need to prove that paying a different amount is in the best interest of the child or children involved. 

It’s advised that you remain in the marital home until the divorce is complete. If you move out when you still have children in the home, it can be more difficult to get primary custody in the state of North Dakota. 

Divorce Terms: No-Fault Divorce

North Dakota is considered a “no-fault” divorce state, which means that the reason is listed as “irreconcilable differences.” This term provides a substantial reason or reasons why the marriage should not continue. It also shows that the marriage should not be resolved.

The Plaintiff does not have to prove that the other party did something wrong in order to file for divorce. All they have to do is claim that they and their spouse have irreconcilable differences.

A judge or a judicial referee needs to agree that irreconcilable differences exist, and then they will grant the no-fault divorce. Some other grounds for divorce in North Dakota include proving “fault.” A fault divorce is much more complicated and can take much longer to complete. 

Uncontested vs. Contested Divorce

In an uncontested divorce, both parties file a complete agreement in writing together. When both spouses agree to everything in writing, they simply need to complete all of the paperwork for the divorce settlement together.

Once both parties complete the paperwork, they file it with the court. As long as everything is completely correct and filed appropriately, the divorce is typically granted quickly with no hearing required.

In a contested divorce, one spouse begins the divorce process on their own. Most of the time, both spouses don’t agree on everything in the divorce terms and conditions, which is why it’s considered contested. 

Other cases of a contested divorce may include when the other spouse cannot be located and the filing spouse decides to proceed on their own without them. If both parties can’t reach a settlement, the court will schedule a trial to deal with any unresolved issues. 

Property Division

Aside from joint and personal finances, property is one of the main points of contention during a divorce proceeding. The term property division refers to the process of dividing community property from the marriage.

In some cases, the couple might agree on how to divide their property. However, if there’s a disagreement, it’s usually left up to the judge to determine how the divide the property between the couple in a fair manner.

It’s important to note that property division during a divorce is not always equal. In many cases, one spouse may receive more than the other. 

North Dakota is an equitable distribution state, which means that the property is divided based on several factors. Some of those factors might include how long you’ve been married, differences in age, wealth, earnings potential, and the health of both partners. 


If you’re having marital troubles, you may decide to separate before the divorce. Make sure you’re aware of the legal implications of separation, such as child custody as we mentioned above.

Legal separation is different from trial separation, when a couple may decide to live apart before they determine whether or not they’ll divorce. Trial separation won’t affect property rights or division during the divorce proceeding. 

If you’re legally separated, this is typically awarded by a family court in advance. These couples are no longer married, but they’re not technically divorced and cannot re-marry until the official divorce is granted. 

Preparation is Key

Understanding these important divorce terms can help make the process a bit easier. Remember, it’s always best to consult with a divorce attorney so you’re armed with the right type of support and knowledge to get through this difficult time.

If you’re looking for an experienced divorce attorney, contact Heartland Law Office, PC to schedule a consultation today.