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Fargo Family Law Blog

Child custody and residential responsibility

Whether they are going through a divorce or were never married, many North Dakota parents don't know where to begin with the process of establishing child custody. Perhaps the best place to begin is with the term itself.

Since 2009, North Dakota courts have used the term "residential responsibility" for the legal concept other states call child custody, and the term "parenting time" for the concept known elsewhere as visitation.

The final steps of your divorce

No matter how amicably your divorce is progressing, you may still be feeling emotional and confused. In fact, you may be ready to move on as quickly as possible to put aside the mistakes and regrets of the past.

While you understand that the marriage is not legally dissolved until the judge signs the divorce decree, what you may not realize is that a divorce decree does not necessarily tie up all the loose ends. You may still have some steps to take to bring closure to the process.

Requesting modifications to a child support order

It can be a struggle to keep up with child support payments under the best of times. After a job loss or another setback, it can be near impossible. Once a parent falls behind, the unpaid balance accumulates interest at a rapid rate, and it can turn into serious financial and legal trouble. Parents in this situation need help with a child support modification.

When deciding on child support orders, North Dakota courts base the dollar amount on the child's needs and the paying parent's ability to pay. Typically, the amount is set as a percentage of the paying parent's income at the time of the order. Depending on the custody arrangement, the court may set a child support amount for each parent. In any case, the order amount does not automatically change when a parent's income goes up or down. Instead, the North Dakota Child Support agency is supposed to review the order every 18 months and set the amount accordingly.

The road to adoption can be a rocky one

For a lawyer practicing family law, most cases involve negotiating the best ways to dissolve a marriage, divide property and split responsibility for raising children. Adoption is very different because it involves adding to a family. When all goes well, adoption leads to very happy results. Unfortunately, adopting a child is often an expensive and complicated process, with a lot of frustration and setbacks along the way.

Recently, a couple in the Fargo-Moorhead area talked to a local newspaper about their difficulties adopting a baby. After seeing an article about the same-sex married couple, a pregnant woman contacted them and said she was interested in giving them her baby for adoption.

When can I refuse my ex's scheduled parenting time?

You would not be the first parent to resent your ex's time with the children. In fact, each time your ex picks them up or you have to take them to his or her house, you may feel the emotions of worry, sorrow, anger and disappointment that a North Dakota family court awarded shared custody or visitation rights to your ex.

Perhaps you have even made excuses for not honoring your ex's visitation time. You may have called your ex at the last minute to say the children were sick or that you forgot about some schedule conflict. However, even if these were true, you were probably in violation of the court order, which can have serious legal ramifications, including jeopardizing your own custody of the children.

New tax law spells big changes for alimony

Millions of Americans were surprised this year when they saw their tax bills and realized that they were not going to get the refund they expected. This past tax day was the first since the new federal tax law went into effect, and the changes remain highly controversial. One change that has received somewhat less attention makes a big difference in divorce and alimony, and attorneys are trying to help their clients find ways to deal with it.

Starting for divorces completed this year, under the new law, paying spouses will no longer be able to deduct the cost of alimony the way they would deduct a business expense. Spouses receiving alimony no longer must report it as income.

Your parenting plan can help you parent better post-divorce

More than likely, when you and your spouse decided to divorce, one of the first things you did as parents was discuss how to make the process and the transition as easy on your children as possible. Perhaps you agreed that regardless of your relationship issues, you both want to continue to work together to raise your children, which means you have already taken the first step in achieving that desire.

You and your future former spouse can take the time you need to find and create a vision for parenting post-divorce. Before you begin, you may find it useful to set out some goals for your parenting plan.

What is a presumption of paternity in North Dakota?

Family law can be exceedingly complex in North Dakota. While most issues that come to the forefront center on divorce, child support, spousal support and other basic considerations, paternity can also be a factor. In some instances, when a couple has a child, there could be a question as to whom the biological father is. Understanding the presumption of paternity is a key part of a case as the biological father and his identity can be critical to determining visitation rights and child support. The mother, the presumed father and a potential father should be aware of this law.

There will be a presumption of paternity: if a man is married to the mother of the child and the child is born when they are married; if the man and the mother were married and the child was born within 300 days of the marriage ending in any way; or if, prior to the child's birth, the mother and the man were married in a way they believed would comply with the law even if the marriage could be rendered invalid within 300 days of the birth.

What if I need a child support modification in North Dakota?

When a couple has a child in North Dakota and divorces, there will be a child support order. In general, the noncustodial parent will pay support to the custodial parent so the child can be properly cared for. The amount in the order will be based on the state's child support guidelines. Earnings are critical when determining how much the support order will be. There are other factors that will be considered in addition to income. Many people might be under the impression that once the order is made, it cannot be changed. That, however, is not the case. A modification is possible if the circumstances warrant it.

The modification will not be done automatically. There must be a court order to make a change just as there was a court order for the original amount. A review will be conducted every 18 months. This is 18 months from the order, the previous review or the previous change. It is done when one of the parents is getting Full Services from state. Exceptions to the rule that it will be done every 18 months include there being zero dollars awarded or if a parent who is ordered to pay begins receiving Supplemental Security Income or other disability after the order. Either parent can ask for a review.

Practical tips for helping kids navigate divorce

Divorce is often most difficult for the youngest members of the family. Naturally, children struggle when their parents spilt up, and you understand the importance of helping them navigate this difficult time of transition. There are steps North Dakota parents can take to ease the mental and emotional stress that a divorce can cause for children.

Even when parents are amicable and resolved to help their children as much as possible, it can still be a difficult time. One of the most important things you and the other parent can do is work for a reasonable and fair custody order. Providing the kids with stability and as much continuity of lifestyle as possible is a practical way to help your kids adjust and move on with their lives.

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Commandments of Family Law

  1. The only truth your children need to know is that you both love them unconditionally, and that this isn't their fault.
  2. Take the high road — everyone wins when you do what's best for your kids.
  3. Negotiate but don't capitulate — if you are being pushed toward something detrimental for your children, stand your ground.
  4. You can only control yourself and how you respond. Don't engage.
  5. Do set up rules and responsibilities. Kids feel better when routine is continued.
  6. You are still their parent — don't be afraid to be one.
  7. Disneyland is in California, not in your home. Don't set up unreasonable expectations.
  8. It is not their job to take care of you. Repeat that to them. Often.
  9. Yelling is for sports — not court. Good lawyers strongly advocate without being disrespectful to opposing parties.
  10. Fair is a place you go to get cheese curds. Aside from that, nothing in life is fair.

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