Devil’s Tower: Return to a Fault Based Divorce

Is divorce too easy? Some South Dakota lawmakers are trying, but recently failed in their effort, to pass a bill that would have eliminated no fault divorce, removed a common reason used by married couples seeking divorce, and make the whole process more difficult.

Devils Tower Divorce

The Mt. Rushmore of Divorce Law

Under South Dakota law, a divorce may be granted for any of the following grounds: adultery, extreme cruelty (including bodily injury or grievous mental suffering), willful desertion, willful neglect, habitual intemperance, conviction of a felony, chronic mental illness or irreconcilable differences.

South Dakota, unlike Florida, recognizes both “fault” and “no fault” divorces. A “no fault” divorce cites irreconcilable differences as the reason for the divorce.

Irreconcilable differences are defined as those determined by the court to be substantial enough reasons for not continuing the marriage and make it appear as though the marriage should be dissolved.

According to South Dakota sources, a Rapid City legislator introduced a bill to remove the grounds of “irreconcilable differences” as a legal reason for couples to get divorced.

In divorce court, irreconcilable differences are the most common in South Dakota. Irreconcilable differences are a way to have a no-fault divorce, and allows a couple to decide that the marriage isn’t working and ask a judge to dissolve the union for no other fault.

But the politician behind the bill said that making divorce harder to get was the point of his legislation: Divorce has gotten to be too easy, and married couples are giving up on their matrimonial contracts.

The result, he said, is that people are throwing each other away, leading to poverty and depression among children whose parents divorce. “How is that helpful to society?”

Florida No-Fault Divorce

The official term for divorce in Florida is “dissolution of marriage”, and you don’t need fault as a ground for divorce. Florida abolished fault as a ground for divorce.

I’ve written about divorce and infidelity issues before. The no-fault concept in Florida means you no longer have to prove a reason for the divorce, like your husband’s alleged infidelity with a congresswoman. Instead, you just need to state under oath that your marriage is “irretrievably broken.”

Before the no-fault divorce era, people who wanted to get divorce either had to reach agreement in advance with the other spouse that the marriage was over, or throw mud at each other and prove wrongdoing like adultery or abuse.

No-fault laws were the result of trying to change the way divorces played out in court. No fault laws have reduced the number of feuding couples who felt the need to resort to distorted facts, lies, and the need to focus the trial on who did what to whom.

Avoiding the Badlands

Opponents of the South Dakota bill to make divorce harder included Robert Riter, representing the South Dakota Bar Association, and Steve Siegel, representing the South Dakota Trial Lawyers Association.

Siegel noted that removing irreconcilable differences would require couples to cite one of the six remaining reasons. Those include adultery, extreme cruelty and habitual intemperance. Those reasons would require couples to go to trial, forcing costly and contentious showdowns.

It’s going to force parties to air their dirty laundry in a public forum.

Riter said that the system of divorce law that existed when he started practicing law was worse before irreconcilable differences was added by the Legislature in the 1980s. He noted that other states have similar provisions.

“We’re not an island on this at all,” Riter said. “Society has decided that there ought to be opportunities for parties to agree that the marriage cannot be preserved.”

Tony Monnens, a farmer from Hazel, testified that his wife of 43 years filed for divorce last year after a head injury caused memory loss, which resulted in him losing a job. He said that divorce is too easy.

This thing is the absolute destruction of the family unit as we know it today.

South Dakota’s Argus Leader article is here.

 

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