North Dakota is one of four states in which the Legislature meets biennially. The others are Texas, Nevada, and our neighbor to the west, Montana. North Dakota’s Constitution says the Legislature may meet for a maximum of 80 days every two years, not counting special sessions. While the Constitution does not say the Legislature must meet biennially, North Dakota packs all of those 80 days into one year. This year, given the date the Legislature began its session, the last day will be May 6th.
ND Family Law Bills
Many of you already understand how a bill becomes a law. Well, in this 67th session of the North Dakota Legislature, there are several bills addressing family law matters. Bills that, if enacted, will change how we family law attorneys practice law in certain circumstances. These bills include:
SB 2082 – A bill for an Act to amend and reenact sections 14-08.1-08, 14-09-08.1, 14-09-08.2, 14-09-09.29, and 14-09-26 and subsection 2 of section 50-09-02.1 of the North Dakota Century Code, relating to the clerk of court responsibilities regarding child support.
HB 1427 – A bill for an Act to provide for duties of the commission on juvenile justice and the children’s cabinet and to create a juvenile justice planning committee, a planning committee for children in need of services, and a planning committee for alternatives to juvenile detention.
HB 1354 – A bill for an Act to create and enact subdivision z of subsection 2 of section 28‑32‑01 and chapter 54‑67 of the North Dakota Century Code, relating to the commission on guardianship; to amend and reenact subsection 1 of section 50‑24.1‑07 of the North Dakota Century Code, relating to the commission on guardianship and exempt administrative agencies; to provide a penalty; to provide for a legislative management report, and to provide a continuing appropriation.
HB 1423 – A bill for an Act to create and enact a new section to chapter 14‑09 of the North Dakota Century Code, relating to child support obligations and parenting time.
SB 2340 – A bill for an Act to amend and reenact section 14‑15‑19 of the North Dakota Century Code, relating to termination of parental rights.
HB 1254 – A bill for an Act to amend and reenact 14-05-24.1 of the North Dakota Century Code, relating to spousal support.
House Bills 1254 And 1423
The two bills that will likely have the most impact on the greatest number of people are House Bill 1254 and House Bill 1423.
House Bill 1254 would change the North Dakota spousal support statute. The current spousal support statute has been discussed recently in this blog post. One of the proposed changes would put a specific number to the requirement that spousal support is ordered for a “limited time.” In this regard, the North Dakota legislature is currently deciding whether there should be a cap on the payment of spousal support of 18 years. I don’t know how they came up with that specific number, and apparently, a few in the legislature didn’t either. In fact, there is currently a “Legislative Management Study” set up to “consider the types of spousal support ordered by the district court and the desirability and feasibility of providing statutory guidance for awards of spousal support” before making a final decision.
The other proposed change is likely to cause some debate as well. This change would allow the district court to modify spousal support post-judgment. This is nothing new; however, the Legislature may take it one step further to only allow downward modifications of spousal support. In other words, the district courts across North Dakota would only be able to decrease spousal support, not increase it post-judgment.
North Dakota Bill 1423 will likely be praised by many if passed. For as long as I can remember a couple divorcing or deciding to raise their child separately has been unable to reach an agreement regarding a child support obligation that is contrary to the obligation set by the North Dakota Child Support Guidelines. That would all change if the Legislature passes House Bill 1423. This bill states “…if both parties are represented by an attorney and have reached a stipulated agreement as to parenting time and child support, the court shall accept the parties agreement.” The only caveat is that the parties cannot agree that the child support obligation is less than 50% of the amount calculated under the guidelines. Regardless, it will be a breath of fresh air for a number of couples who do not want to make one party pay the full amount otherwise required by the guidelines.
Every other year our laws change in North Dakota to some extent. Sometimes the changes are rather insignificant. Other times the changes can require an overhaul to the way a lawyer practices his respective area of the law. If you have a family law issue, you will want to find an attorney that is up to date on the ever-changing rules and laws. Here at SW&L Attorneys we pride ourselves on knowing the law and using it to the advantage of our clients.
If you need assistance with navigating issues involved in the family law realm please contact our Family Law Team!