South Dakota Professor Seeks No Fault Divorce Law

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — A law professor and the brother of a woman slain by her abusive husband are collaborating to bring a no fault divorce law to South Dakota.

Roger Baron of the University of South Dakota hopes to draft a bill called “Tania’s Law” that will allow a person to seek divorce without proving grounds such as adultery or extreme cruelty. The lack of no fault divorce discourages victims of domestic violence from seeking divorces because they’re forced to make their cases in court, he said.

South Dakota is one of two states without some form of no fault divorce, the Argus Leader reported. Baron said studies have shown such laws reduce domestic violence cases by a third.

Opponents of the effort argue that domestic violence victims are already protected through state law. They claim the change could actually cause problems for victims, like a loss of alimony awards for those who don’t prove fault.

“I’ve been doing this for 35 years, and I’ve never had a problem getting a divorce for someone in an abusive relationship,” said Linda Lea Viken, a family law attorney in Rapid City.

The law would honor Tania Aesoph of Highmore, who was beaten and strangled by her husband in 1999. David Aesoph refused to divorce his wife on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, and a lawyer told Tania Aesoph she would have to prove “extreme cruelty” to earn a divorce on her own.

“The idea that you have to go back and be abused again to prove extreme cruelty is insane,” Baron said. He met with Aesoph’s brother and sister-in-law last week to plan for the upcoming legislative session.

At a 2000 sentencing hearing, prosecutors argued that David Aesoph killed his wife because he didn’t want to divide their combined assets, including land and money. He was found guilty of murder and is serving a life sentence without parole.

“I’m sure Tania Aesoph would rather be alive without alimony,” Baron said.