Child custody in a divorce must be determined following the best interests of the child. In North Dakota, it is believed that this is achieved when both parents have frequent and substantial contact with the child after the divorce. Therefore, in most cases, the court rules in favor of joint custody, in which both parents have equal rights and duties. However, if such a decision is traumatic for a child or violates his/her safety, the court awards custody of a child to one parent who is considered best suited to raise the son or daughter. Also, before deciding what type of custody is most appropriate, the court usually considers and analyzes factors such as:
- the wishes of the child regarding his/her custodian, provided that he/she is mature enough to make such demands;
- the ability of the child to adapt to new conditions of living and learning;
- the ability and desire of parents to raise a child and satisfy his or her basic needs;
- relationships and emotional connections between a child, parents, and other family members;
- the life of the child in a stable and favorable environment, which can be granted by each of the parents;
- the parents' willingness to cooperate in the process of raising a child;
- and any history of domestic violence and cruelty.
The courts also encourage the parents to provide a Parenting Plan. This plan should contain provisions regarding the upbringing of the child, including a schedule for spending time with each parent, the responsibilities of each parent, possible ways to overcome situations of conflict, and so on.