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New SD Shared Parenting Bill Will Be Proposed

January 20, 2014, 5:59 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

New SD Shared Parenting Bill Will Be Proposed

South Dakota courts handle more than 4,000 divorce cases a year and many involve children and a battle over custody.

This year, state lawmakers will once again consider legislation that is aimed at making it easier for judges to grant shared parenting agreements in these cases.

Right now in South Dakota, most custody cases usually end up with one parent getting primary custody and the other parent being considered a visitor.  What the legislation would do is create a set of standards to give judges a check list when it comes to granting a true 50-50 custody split between parents.

Casey Wilson has been pushing for change for the past three years.

"In the current situation, one parent needs to be the winner and one parent the loser," Wilson said.

The father of three from Flandreau gets to see his kids four days a month during the school year and for half of summer vacation, which is similar to the basic non-custodial parent guidelines in South Dakota.

However, Wilson thinks the state needs to have shared parenting with the option of children splitting time between parents without labeling one parent as custodial and the other non-custodial.

"The laws are pretty much set up to pretty much edge one parent out, or minimally involved them, while the other parent gets most of the time," Wilson said.

Legislation on shared parenting has failed the past three years mainly because of fears over opening the floodgates of litigation for old custody battles. There are also concerns changes could force children to spend time with a parent who should not have custody.

But this year one of the opponents of the changes in the past, the South Dakota Bar Association, has come to the table to help write a compromise.

"I think we're really short changing our kids by having a system that doesn't provide for equal time sharing with both their parents," state Senator Dan Lederman (R) Dakota Dunes said.

Lederman is one of the sponsors of the legislation that will essentially set up a checklist for judges to follow, and if the parents meet those standards, the judge can grant shared parenting.

"The bill gives judges more discretion and says, 'Here are the factors we want you to consider,'" Lederman said.

And for people like Wilson who have been part of the shared parenting push in the past, the legislation is a step in the right direction.

"I have people call me every day about the horror stories they go through here in South Dakota and I'm mostly doing it for those people, not necessarily myself," Wilson said.

The legislation will be officially introduced in Pierre this week.

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