If you decide to end your marriage, there are certain issues that have to be settled. For example, if you and your spouse have children, you’ll have to decide how much time each parent is going to spend with them and how much child support has to be paid. You’ll also have to divide your property and debts.
In order to start the divorce process while representing yourself, you’ll need to complete some forms. You can obtain the forms online, from the South Dakota Unified Judicial System's forms index. These are official forms, but you should double-check with your local court to make sure the judges there will accept them.
Be thorough and complete in responding to the questions. Fill out the forms on a computer if you can. If not, write or print neatly and legibly.
The forms you are required to complete differ depending on whether you have children and also on whether you are the plaintiff (the spouse who initiates the divorce) or the defendant (the spouse who is served with divorce papers). If you and your spouse have minor children (meaning, kids who are financially dependent on you and who aren't legally emancipated), you need to use the "Pro Se Divorce with Children" forms. But if you don't have any minor children together, you should use the "Pro Se Divorce Without Children" forms.
When you’re ready, make two copies of all documents and hold onto the original. Eventually you will give one copy to the court, one to the other spouse and keep the last one for yourself.
Go to your local courthouse (the one where you or your spouse are living) and ask to file the documents that were outlined in the Instructions you read earlier. You’ll need to pay a fee of $95 unless you complete the "Affidavit of Indigency" (UJS 305) and the court agrees that the fee should be waived because you can’t afford it.
Ask the court clerk to give you two copies, then assemble a packet for your spouse that includes everything you filed plus the summons. Serve your spouse as soon as possible after leaving.
If you're a defendant, it's critical to remember that you have to file an Answer within 20 days of being served with the plaintiff's papers. Otherwise the plaintiff can ask for a default judgment, which means that the divorce is entered solely on your spouse's terms without input from you.
When you’ve prepared and filed your forms, you should immediately serve your spouse with the documents. Service of process is very important in the American legal system because it ensures that everyone has notice about what’s going on and an opportunity to “appear,” or argue, their point of view. Service of process ensures that no one is ever “ambushed” in a courtroom.
If your spouse is an adult who is pro se (meaning, has not hired a lawyer), then you should serve your spouse directly at the location at your spouse’s home address. If your spouse has retained a lawyer, serve the lawyer at the lawyer’s office and don’t send copies to your spouse.
If you're the plaintiff and you're serving the Summons and Complaint, special service rules apply. The first option is that you hire a professional process server or a law enforcement official (like a Sheriff or constable) to serve the documents personally, then complete an Affidavit of Personal Service. The second option is that you send the materials to the defendant if and only if you believe the defendant will sign and return a Notice and Admission of Service of Summons and Complaint within 20 days.
Virtually all other documents can be served by first class mail or hand delivery.
Different rules may apply if you are trying to serve someone who is very hard to locate, in the military, out-of-state, or in jail. Check with your clerk of court for more information in these unusual situations.
Both spouses have to complete a Financial Affidavit (UJS 304), which is a statement sworn in front of a notary public that details each spouse’s financial picture, from employment to assets to liabilities and monthly expenses. This helps everyone to understand more about, for example, how much child support should be paid, or whether one spouse should receive alimony. Make sure you are clear, detailed, and candid when you complete this form. File it with the court and serve it upon your spouse as well.
The South Dakota Unified Judicial System and the University of South Dakota Law School run a help line you can call for help with forms. The phone number is 1-855-784-0004, and it is manned by law students.