Emotions can run high when finances, property and parenting are at issue in a divorce, and the process can become contentious. Every state has unique laws governing divorce, also called dissolution. South Dakota is no exception.
Grounds for Divorce
In South Dakota, parties can agree to divorce due to irreconcilable differences, but otherwise one spouse must cite and prove grounds such as adultery, extreme cruelty, desertion, willful neglect, habitual intemperance, or felony conviction.
A small percentage of couples can seek an annulment rather than a divorce. Annulment is a legal declaration that the marriage was invalid from the start. A permanent legal separation is another possibility. The grounds and procedures are the same as for divorce, but a legal separation avoids the religious ramifications of divorce, and this is important for some couples.
Will You Require Legal Assistance?
Some couples can complete the required divorce paperwork amicably without the help of an attorney. In other situations, retaining legal representation can help alleviate stress and avoid future complications. Mistakes can happen when you handle a divorce on your own and you're not intimately familiar with the law.
Couples sometimes utilize alternative resolution methods when divorce proceedings threaten to turn emotional or expensive. Negotiation or a mediation session with a neutral party can help settle major differences. South Dakota requires mediation in some child-related issues.
It is sometimes necessary to resolve issues such as child custody, support payments, and occupation of the marital home while a divorce case is still pending. You can ask the court for temporary orders if this is the case. The provisions of temporary orders can become permanent if they work for everyone involved.
Custody and Support
Child custody terms include shared residential or physical custody and legal, decision-making custody awarded to both parents. Alternatively, one parent might be awarded sole physical or sole legal custody. Sole legal custody is uncommon, however. In general, the preference in South Dakota is for children to have relationships with both parents. Sometimes spouses can reach co-parenting agreements; if they cannot, a judge will decide.
Child support amounts are established by law according to guidelines based on both parents' incomes. A judge can deviate from the guidelines and consider factors such as a child's special needs to raise or lower the obligation. Expenses such as child care are included in child support. Custodial time is a determining factor when calculating support, but the two are legally separate issues. One parent cannot prevent contact with the children if the other is behind on support, although nonpayment of support is considered a misdemeanor.
Medical coverage for children is generally included in support orders. A parent with access to affordable coverage through an employer will be required to provide it, although the cost is typically divided proportionally, based on each parent's income. Uncovered expenses in excess of $250 a year are divided between parents, as are bills for care for chronically ill children.
Property and Debts
South Dakota is an "equitable division" state. If spouses cannot agree on a settlement, the judge will distribute the marital assets fairly but not necessarily equally. Property obtained before the marriage usually is assigned to the spouse who owns it, as are inheritances that occur during the marriage.
The final order, which generally incorporates property division, support and custody terms, officially ends the marriage. If circumstances change, a former spouse can return to court to request alterations in support or visitation. There is a 60-day waiting period in South Dakota before a divorce can be finalized.
Seeking Legal Assistance
This article is a broad overview of South Dakota divorce law. A local attorney can provide advice about specific situations.