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Establishing Custody (Residential Responsibility) and Visitation (Parenting Time)


(In North Dakota, Custody is called Residential Responsibility and Visitation is called Parenting Time.)

Parents who have never been married to each other may ask a North Dakota State District Court to establish residential responsibility and parenting time to their children.

This is called an action, or case, to establish Parenting Responsibilities.

There are two ways to establish parenting responsibilities in a North Dakota state district court:

  • File a Complete Agreement Together (Uncontested Parenting Responsibilities): If both parents agree in writing on absolutely every issue, they complete all of the necessary settlement agreement paperwork together. After they’ve completed all of the necessary paperwork, they file it with the court. If the parents correctly file every document the court needs to establish parenting responsibilities, the final judgment is generally granted quickly and without a hearing.

  • One Parent Starts the Action on Their Own (Contested Parenting Responsibilities): If the parents can’t agree on every issue, or if one of the parents can’t be located, one parent may start the action to establish parenting responsibilities on their own. If the parents aren’t able to reach a settlement of all issues after the action starts, the court schedules a trial. At the trial the judge or judicial referee decides the unresolved parenting responsibility issues. The time from start to finish largely depends on whether parent s can reach agreements and the court’s caseload.

Parties in an Action to Establish Parenting Responsibilities

The Plaintiff or Petitioner is the parent who starts the action.

The Defendant or Respondent is the parent who doesn’t start the action.

Jurisdiction Requirements for Establishing Parenting Responsibilities

Jurisdiction is the power of a North Dakota state district court to hear, decide, and issue a final judgment in your action to establish parenting responsibilities. If the District Court doesn’t have jurisdiction, your action to establish parenting responsibilities can’t be handled by a North Dakota state court.

A North Dakota State District Court has jurisdiction to establish parenting responsibilities to a minor child when:

  • North Dakota is the home state of the child on the date the parenting responsibilities action starts; or
  • North Dakota was the home state of the child within six months before the date the parenting rights and responsibilities action started, and the child is absent from North Dakota but a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in North Dakota; or
  • North Dakota isn't the home state, but a court of the child’s home state declined jurisdiction because North Dakota is the more appropriate forum, and:
    • The child and the child's parents, or the child and at least one parent or a person acting as a parent, have a significant connection with North Dakota other than mere physical presence; and
    • Substantial evidence is available in North Dakota concerning the child's care, protection, training, and personal relationships.

("Home state means the state in which a child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding. In the case of a child less than six months of age, the term means the state in which the child lived from birth with any of the persons mentioned. A period of temporary absence of any of the mentioned persons is part of the period.")

You Must Calculate Child Support

Unless a court has already ordered child support payments, you’re required to calculate child support in actions to establish parenting responsibilities. You must calculate child support even if you and the other parent have agreements between yourselves related to child support.

If you don’t want to establish child support as part of your action to establish parenting responsibilities, you still must complete the child support calculations. The judge or judicial referee decides whether it’s in the best interests of the children to waive, or stay, your child support payments.

If you plan to ask the judge or judicial referee to allow you to pay a different amount of child support than the child support calculations say, you must prove you meet one of the limited exceptions for paying a different amount. You must also prove paying a different amount is in the best interests of the children.

You may be able to apply for services with North Dakota Child Support. If your application for full services is approved by North Dakota Child Support, they can help to establish an order for child support and medical support in a separate child support case.

Forms and Guides for Establishing Parenting Responsibilities

North Dakota Legal Self Help Center forms aren’t official court forms and courts aren’t required to accept them. There’s no guarantee that all judges and courts will accept forms available through the Center. Use at your own risk.

Forms aren't available for every legal issue or circumstance.  If you don't find a form that suits your circumstances on this website, the form isn't available through the North Dakota Legal Self Help Center.

You may need to create legal documents yourself.  The General-Use forms in the District Court Civil Action Section of this website may be used as a starting point for creating your own legal documents.

Establishing Parenting Responsibilities Forms:

Establishing Parenting Responsibilities Informational Guides:

Selected Statutes (Laws) & Rules

Following are legal research starting points related to establishing parenting responsibilities. You may need to conduct additional legal research into your legal issue.  See the Legal Research Section of this website.

Other Resources

Following are other resources related to establishing parenting responsibilities proceedings that may be of interest.

If you don't understand any of this information, or if you have trouble filling out any of the forms located here, consult a lawyer.

The information provided on and obtained from this site doesn't constitute the official record of the Court. This information is provided as a service to the general public. Any user of this information is hereby advised that it is being provided "as is". The information provided may be subject to errors or omissions. Visitors to this site agree that the Court isn't liable for errors or omissions of any of the information provided.

If you have a question relating to a case that is already filed please contact the clerk of court for the county.