Divorce is never easy, but some divorces are far cheaper, faster, and less painful than others. There is a way to avoid having your divorce turn into an adversarial process, but a low-conflict divorce depends primarily on the relationship of the divorcing spouses. For couples that can cooperate, compromise, and communicate effectively, an uncontested (stipulated) divorce is a great option.
This article provides a general overview of uncontested divorces in South Dakota. While the law doesn't require you to hire an attorney during your divorce, if you have questions throughout the process, it's best to consult with an experienced attorney before you sign paperwork or submit any documents to the court.
Uncontested divorces are typically much cheaper than contested divorces and can save the spouses the headache and stress associated with going to court. Contested divorce trials often include expensive attorney, witness, or expert fees. Additionally, traditional divorces typically take significantly longer than divorces where spouses work together.
In an 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.
South Dakota maintains an informative state website to help spouses who want to file for divorce on their own at www.ujslawhelp.sd.gov. You can find some resources under the "E-Services" drop-down menu. You can also find all the related uncontested divorce forms on the South Dakota Legal Self-Help website.
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.
You will typically file the divorce paperwork in the county circuit court where you 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.)
You can find the court forms to file a stipulated divorce at the South Dakota Legal Self-Help website, or, if you don't have access to the internet, 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, the spouse who prepares and files the initial paperwork, the "plaintiff," must file the following documents with the court before the court proceeds with the case:
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 Court Costs section of the 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 waiver from the court.
You will need to provide the 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 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.
If you have additional questions about obtaining an uncontested divorce in South Dakota, contact an experienced family law attorney for assistance.
For more information on uncontested divorces in South Dakota, see South Dakota Codified Laws, Chapter 25-4, et seq.