- Associated Press - Friday, February 20, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A measure to allow unilateral no-fault divorce in South Dakota that’s aimed at helping domestic violence victims escape abusive marriages narrowly passed a legislative committee on Friday.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 7-5 to approve the plan against the protests of opponents who said lawmakers shouldn’t make it easier to get a divorce in the state.

Democratic Rep. Ray Ring, of Vermillion, said his measure would allow one spouse to get a divorce without the consent of the other spouse. South Dakota and Mississippi are the only states where unilateral no-fault divorce isn’t available, said Roger Baron, a law professor at the University of South Dakota.

But Ring said the proposal is specifically aimed at addressing domestic abuse and that he would likely try to narrow the scope of the bill for the House floor vote.

Kristian Ellendorf, a law student at the University of South Dakota who testified, said she has been in a physically abusive relationship and was speaking for another victim who died as a result of abuse from her husband.

“The laws as they are today are completely failing us,” Ellendorf said after the hearing, noting she was not married to her abuser.

She said current law requires domestic violence victims to testify in court if their spouses won’t agree to a divorce. She said she wouldn’t be able to talk about the violence she endured if her abuser was in the room during the testimony.

Ellendorf said she was able to start on her path of escaping the abuse after joining the Army National Guard.

Rep. Roger Hunt, a Republican from Brandon, said he’s concerned that the bill isn’t limited to violent situations. He said it would open up unilateral no-fault divorce to anyone in the state.

“When we make it easier for people to get divorced, we’re weakening our society,” Hunt said.


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