PIERRE, S.D. — A South Dakota state senator had hoped a sensational trial that aired details of a prosecutor’s romance would help him in his decade-long quest to get rid of a state law that allows people to seek financial damages from someone for stealing a spouse.
But the senator’s effort suffered a major setback Tuesday, when a legislative committee voted to keep the law, which its supporters argue helps protect marriage by deterring attempts to seduce married people.
The South Dakota law is based on centuries-old British law. State Sen. Stan Adelstein, a Republican from Rapid City, says it treats a spouse as property and that only a half dozen other states still allow such lawsuits. Adelstein said he will continue to push his measure to repeal the law that allows alienation of affection lawsuits.
“The concept was that women were basically mindless and could be easily carried away by a handsome man or an unhandsome man who was particularly articulate,” Adelstein said. “It’s really a ridiculous idea.”
Adelstein had hoped his cause would be helped by a recent trial in Rapid City that attracted a lot of attention in South Dakota. Former county prosecutor Glenn Brenner was sued by his wife’s ex-husband, businessman Douglas Rumpca, claiming Brenner stole Kellie Rumpca from a loving marriage. Douglas Rumpca sued Brenner in 2010 after his wife, Kellie, filed for divorce. Brenner married Kellie Rumpca in 2011.
Douglas Rumpca’s lawsuit seeking $350,000 in damages from Brenner was ultimately unsuccessful, but not before details about Brenner’s romance with Kellie Rumpca were revealed in court.
Adelstein said such lawsuits, although rare, particularly hurt the children of those involved in the legal disputes. He said the Brenners are moving to Texas because of the publicity, uprooting their children from their friends.
But Dale Bartscher of the South Dakota Family Heritage Alliance said the threat of an alienation of affection lawsuit can save marriages and deter someone from trying to seduce a married woman. He said he knows of one marriage that likely was saved when a husband learned his wife was having an affair and threatened to sue her lover.
“We simply say once two people are married in South Dakota, leave that marriage alone,” Bartscher said.
Adelstein and Bartscher said Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina and Utah also still allow such lawsuits.
For decades, South Dakota law allowed a man to sue if another man seduced his wife, but not for a woman to sue a husband’s lover. In 2002, the Legislature rejected Adelstein’s attempt to repeal the law, but it changed it so a wife also could sue for alienation of affection.
Sen. Jim Bradford, a Democrat from Pine Ridge, said he supports getting rid of the law because such lawsuits are more about money than love.
“The whole idea isn’t to bring the marriage back together. It’s to get some money out of somebody,” Bradford said.
But Sen. Mike Vehle, a Republican from Mitchell, said the law serves a purpose by warning people not to try to seduce someone else’s spouse. Too many marriages now end in divorce, Vehle said.
“I’d hate to see us, by passing this, have South Dakota look like we are adding to that trend by saying it’s OK to steal the affections of someone else and break up that family,” Vehle said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 4-3 Tuesday to reject Adelstein’s proposal. Adelstein said he may ask the full Senate to override the committee’s decision and debate the bill.