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What are Family Court Records?

A family court is a subset of the court system that handles cases pertaining to domestic relations (i.e., the family) on the basis of family law. North Dakota family court records include a wide range of documents such as case files, dockets, minutes of proceedings, orders, payments, forensic evidence, exhibits, transcripts, and any other items relevant to the case.

What is a family court in North Dakota State?

The North Dakota state court system does not run separate family courts. Instead, civil cases categorized under domestic relations are handled by the district courts. There are currently 8 judicial districts that provide court services throughout the 53 counties of the state, presided over by 52 judges.

What Cases are Heard by Family Courts?

All cases pertaining to domestic relations are handled by family courts, some of which are:

  • Change of Name;
  • Paternity;
  • Adoption;
  • Divorce/ separation/ annulment;
  • Termination of parental rights;
  • Juvenile matters- delinquency/child neglect/ child custody/ child visitation;
  • Domestic violence;
  • Alimony;
  • Guardianship; and
  • Property distribution

Are Family Court Records Public in North Dakota State?

Family court records are generally accessible by the public in keeping with the commitment of the judiciary to transparency and accountability to its citizens. A few exceptions however do exist by law, or court order:

  • Juvenile cases,
  • Mental health case proceedings,
  • Financial information of parties involved,
  • Adoption/ paternity cases.
  • Domestic violence protection order files (final court orders are usually available)
  • Psychological profiles of drug/ alcohol use

Certain aspects of family court records are also not available to the general public in North Dakota state courts. These include filed information supporting the issuance of arrest warrants, sexual assault restraining orders, and filed documents currently under examination. Similarly, family court records may be sealed on request by one of the parties involved for reasons the court has adjudged to be deserving of the request. This often occurs where disclosure may impede fair trial, where charges have been dismissed, or where information may constitute risk to public safety. Accessible family court records are available online in a county-directory format. Records can be searched for based on the case title, the name of one of the parties involved, the name of the attorney that handled the case, or the date the case was filed. Family court records can also be accessed in person by contacting the clerk of the court where the case was heard.

Are North Dakota State Divorce Records Sealed or Public Records?

North Dakota state divorce records are public records maintained by the vital records unit of the State Department of Health, the exception being cases that have been sealed upon request of the parties involved in order to protect personal privacy or that of the children involved.

How Do I Find Divorce Records in North Dakota State?

North Dakota divorce records are available only with the district court office clerk/recorder of the county where the divorce decree was made. All requests for copies must be made either by mail, fax, online, or in person. Requests are usually processed within a week for a small fee. Copies can also be shipped to the requestor at extra charges.

Additionally, publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching a specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:

  • The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
  • The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name

Third-party sites are not government-sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.

How to Access Family Law Cases in North Dakota State

Family law Cases in North Dakota State are available for viewing at the website of the Supreme court of the state. Here, information about cases can be searched for by citation number, case number, or name of party/parties involved in the case.

Family Court Records can include marriage records and divorce records. These records contain personal information of those involved and their maintenance is critical should anyone involved wish to make changes. Because of this both marriage and divorce records can be considered more difficult to locate and obtain than other public records, and may not be available through government sources or third party public record websites.

How to Request Family Court Records in North Dakota State

Information on family court records can be obtained by submitting a request in writing to the county clerk where the case was heard. Sufficient information about the record must be provided in the request in order to facilitate search. Upon finding the record, the clerk promptly provides written information about the record. This attracts a small processing fee. Copies may only be made for parties to the case or authorised persons for purposes adjudged appropriate by the court. A valid photo Identification is usually required along with the request form.

Both government websites and organizations may offer divorce and marriage records. Similarly, third party public record websites can also provide these types of records. But because third party organizations are not operated or sponsored by the government, record availability may vary. Further, marriage and divorce records are considered highly private and are often sealed, meaning availability of these types of records cannot be guaranteed.

How to Serve Family Court Papers in North Dakota State

According to the North Dakota Rules of Court (Rule 3.5), the plaintiff (the party bringing legal action) must file a complaint with the district court. A number of rules determine the feasibility of a case being tried in the state district courts. Forms are available for different cases on the Electronic Filing System. For cases that do not have specific forms, the general use forms may be used to create the desired legal documents. Complaint forms must be filled accurately and in line with the requirements. Completed forms are submitted electronically using the Odyssey electronic filing system or at the office of the clerk of court, who prepares a completed copy of the summons. Upon filing the complaint and summons at the specified fee (currently $80), the court commences civil action by serving court papers to the defendant (court papers in this context consist of a copy of complaints, summons and an affidavit of service). All court forms are obtained and processed for fees as determined by each county.

Who can serve family court papers in North Dakota state?

Only persons of legal age (14 years and above), who are not party to, or interested in the case can serve court papers within North Dakota state. Where court papers are to be served to a non-resident defendant, persons appointed by the law of the place must conduct the service of process. Service of process could be made by:

  • Personal delivery: A copy of summons is handed directly to the defendant by a sheriff, or a process server appointed by the court authorities. A delivery by proxy is also permitted where the defendant is not around, in which case the papers are delivered to his/her residence in the presence of a person (a neighbour for instance) of legal age and discretion. Similarly, court papers could also be delivered to the defendant’s spouse (if they live together) or an authorised agent by law.
  • By mail: Any form of mail or commercial delivery is acceptable, for which a receipt of delivery to the defendant must be obtained as proof of service.a
  • By Publication: A service by publication becomes necessary, where all attempts to serve the defendant fails. This is especially true of cases of divorce, annulment, parental rights, and matters involving property rights. Prior to a publication, a complaint and affidavit must be filed with the clerk of the court where action is to be taken. Thereafter, the publication is authorised in a newspaper circulated within the county for three successive weeks.

Note: Please note that defendants under 14 years cannot receive service of process by law. However, persons with custody rights over them (parent or guardian) or agent appointed by law can receive service of process on their behalf. This also applies to incompentent individuals.

Irrespective of the method of service used, a period of 14 days from the date of service is given for resident defendant to confirm receipt of service process and 60 days for a non-resident defendant. This is referred to as a proof of service, which could be a:

  • Officer’s certificate of service (where the process server is a sheriff or constable)
  • Affidavit of service ( persons appointed to serve process)
  • Affidavit of delivery and return receipt, and
  • A written admission by the defendant.

What is Contempt of Court in Family Law in North Dakota State?

Contempt of court generally refers to wilful actions that constitute a breach of court order or obstruction to due legal process by parties involved in a case. Contempt of court North Dakota state could be civil or criminal. Unacceptable behavior before the judge during court proceedings, assault on a spouse or minor within outside the court premises, failure to pay child custody support or alimony, refusal to appear in court for witness/trial are a few of the actions regarded as contempt of court. Civil contempt of court is punishable by sanctions that force the offending party to obey the existing court order, and are subsequently lifted after compliance with court order. Criminal contempt of court on the other hand, refers to actions with criminal intent, and are punishable by fines, jail term, or both. The failure to pay child support in North Dakota state is regarded as a class C felony, which is punishable by a 5 year term in jail.

North Dakota Family Court Records