When a marriage ends in divorce or unmarried couples end their relationship, North Dakota, like many states, determines custody awards using the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. The Act covers the state's right to hear a custody case, the basis of determining custody and enforcement of custody orders.
Under North Dakota's child custody act the state is allowed to hear a custody case if: (1) the child at issue has lived in North Dakota for at least the past six months; (2) no other state has jurisdiction to hear the case; (3) most of the evidence the court will use to determine custody is located in the state.
North Dakota law requires that mothers and fathers be given equal consideration when determining who should be awarded custody. Custody includes physical and legal custody. Physical custody means who the child lives with and legal custody refers to the right to make decisions for the child, including educational and medical needs.
Best Interests of Child Standard
North Dakota courts determine custody based on the "best interests of the child" standard. Factors the court examines include: (1) the physical and mental health of each parent; (2) each parent's ability to adequately provide housing, clothing, food and medical care; (3) each parent's ability to provide a permanent and stable home environment; (4) the relationship between the child and each parent; (5) each parent's ability to love, guide, educate and show affection to the child; (6) the child's preference, if mature and intelligent enough to make a choice and (7) any history of domestic violence.
Non-Custodial Parents' Rights
Visitation is important to allow the non-custodial parent and child to maintain and strengthen their relationship. If the court does not award joint custody to both parents, the non-custodial parent has visitation rights. Visitation is permitted unless contact with the non-custodial parent would harm the child, as in situations of domestic violence or child abuse.
North Dakota permits modification of custody orders. When a parent requests modification, usually the non-custodial parent now seeking custody, the court examines the "best interests" factors again to determine if there has been a significant change in circumstances. Custody orders in North Dakota are not reviewed until at least two years after the issue date. However, custody can be modified earlier if: (1) the parents agree to the change; (2) one parent is preventing the other from seeing the child; (3) the child is in danger. In all cases, the change in custody must be in the best interests of the child.
North Dakota has a system in place to assist parents having a dispute regarding custody or the care of the child. Parents must notify the court of any disagreement and the court will appoint a Parenting Coordinator. The Parenting Coordinator's job is to help the parents resolve the dispute. Parenting Coordinators are not required though. Parents also have the right to request that a judge hear and resolve the dispute.