There are generally two types of divorce available in most states: contested and uncontested. A divorce is "contested" when the spouses don't agree on some or all aspects of the divorce, meaning that a judge will hold a trial, examine the evidence, and call witnesses. The contested divorce process takes quite a while.
In contrast, in an uncontested divorce—also called a "stipulated divorce" in South Dakota—the spouses agree on all of the issues required to end their marriage, so there's no need for the judge to hold a trial. An uncontested divorce is much faster and cheaper than traditional divorce—spouses can often use a DIY solution like an online divorce service. They do, though, also have the option of getting professional help.
In a South Dakota uncontested divorce, the spouses must agree on all major issues in the divorce, including:
If you and your spouse disagree on any divorce-related issue, the court will deny your uncontested divorce, and you'll need to proceed with a traditional divorce, where the judge will resolve any outstanding issues.
The first step to beginning the divorce process in South Dakota is to ensure you meet the state's residency requirements. You or your spouse must be domiciled in the state, meaning you have lived in South Dakota for at least one day and intend to make the state your permanent home. (S.D. Codified Laws § 25-4-30.)
Additionally, as a pro se (unrepresented) litigant, you will be responsible for filing the correct forms in the proper court. There are 17 circuit courts in South Dakota—the circuit courts are the state's trial courts and oversee divorce proceedings.
Most petitioners file the divorce paperwork in the county circuit court where they live. If you have separated from your spouse and live in different counties, you may file your paperwork in either county's circuit court. (S.D. Codified Laws § 25-4-30.1.)
South Dakota maintains an informative state website to help spouses who want to file for divorce on their own.
You can download the court forms to file a stipulated divorce from the South Dakota Legal Self-Help website, or you can request the documents in person at your local county courthouse.
Court clerks are unable to provide you with legal advice; however, South Dakota's state website provides a checklist for those filing for divorce to help you through the process. Additionally, the South Dakota State Bar operates a program called Access to Justice for those spouses who are trying to represent themselves in a divorce
Unlike some other states, South Dakota does not accept joint divorce petitions, even for uncontested divorces. Instead, one spouse prepares and files the paperwork. The filing spouse is known as the "plaintiff."
When you submit your documents to the court, you will need to pay a filing fee. The amount of the fee varies by county, but you can refer to the "Fees and costs" section of the South Dakota Legal Self-Help website to determine how much you will need to pay. If you can't afford to pay the filing fee, you can request a fee waiver from the court. You will need to provide a fee waiver application to the court clerk when you file your divorce paperwork. The judge will review it and decide whether it's appropriate to waive your fees. If approved, you will not have to pay any court costs for the duration of your case.
After you file all of the required documents with the court, the judge will review the paperwork for accuracy and fairness. Even for uncontested divorces, South Dakota law requires spouses to wait 60 days from the date you file the divorce paperwork until the judge can finalize the divorce. (S.D. Codified Laws §25-4-34.)
The law doesn't require either spouse to attend a final divorce hearing for uncontested divorces. Instead, if there are no problems with the divorce paperwork, once the 60-day waiting period expires, a judge will sign the Final Judgment or Decree of Divorce and finalize your divorce.