Sioux Falls: Divorce capital of the world

Sioux Falls: Divorce capital of the world

Sioux Falls Argus-Leader

SIOUX FALLS - A local historical group wants to install a marker in recognition of a Sioux Falls industry at the turn of the 20th century: divorce.

"It's one of our big stories of the early days of Sioux Falls," said Bruce Blake with the Minnehaha County Historical Society. "Divorce was probably one of the very first industries in Sioux Falls when it was still small and growing."

The society wants a historical marker describing Sioux Falls as the one-time "Divorce Capital of the Nation."

Blake said Sioux Falls was known as the divorce capital because of "scandalously short residency requirements" in Dakota Territory and South Dakota. Initially, a three-month, then later a six-month residency requirement attracted wealthy couples seeking speedy divorces in a closed courtroom.

Most states required at least one year of residency and only considered divorce on the grounds of adultery. South Dakota granted divorce on six grounds, Blake said.

Records show one man was granted a divorce because his wife kept putting her cold feet on his back. Another man received a divorce because his wife wouldn't bathe.

Residency sometimes was obtained by paying for a hotel room, hanging clothes in a closet or leaving luggage behind, then returning to Sioux Falls months later for the divorce hearing, according to Blake.

Blake said those short-time residents accounted for the community's annual income of more than $100,000 during that time. "They also built or bought homes and contributed considerably to the culture of the area," Blake said. Art, entertainment and fashion flourished in those years, he said.

More than 6,000 divorces were granted from 1889 until a reformed divorce law became effective in 1909. About two-thirds of them involved people from out of state.

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