PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Supreme Court says there’s no legal reason to disagree with a circuit judge’s decision in a child-custody dispute.
Justice Mark Salter wrote the high court’s unanimous decision in Flint v. Flint that was publicly released Thursday.
Circuit Judge Jon Sogn granted primary physical custody of the divorced couple’s daughter to the mother, Lyndsey Flint, who now lives in the Fairfield, California, area and works as a law enforcement agent for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in San Francisco.
The father, Jeremy Flint, met Lyndsey in 2010 while he was in the U.S. Air Force stationed at Travers Air Force Base near Fairfield, California. They married in 2011 while he was stationed in Guam. After he was stationed in Las Vegas, Nevada, Lyndsey joined him there. Their daughter was born in 2016.
The family moved to Tuscon, Arizona, in April 2017. The couple separated that October and divorced there in 2018, signing a co-parenting agreement. Lyndsey started federal training in 2019. Jeremy left Air Force service and moved back to the Sioux Falls area in May 2019.
Their daughter lived with her father while her mother was training. In October 2019, Jeremy asked for primary physical custody. Judge Sogn conducted a two-day trial in January 2021.
Wrote Justice Salter:
“In an oral decision issued ten days after the trial, the court granted primary physical custody of (the daughter) to Lyndsey. However, the court emphasized that ‘[t]his was a very difficult case for me’ and expressed regret that the distance between the parents’ homes effectively ruled out a long-term shared parenting plan. The court told the parties, ‘You’re both very good people; very good parents. Either one of you would be an excellent choice for custody of (the daughter).'”
The father appealed, claiming the circuit judge abused his discretion. The Supreme Court disagreed.
Justice Salter found that the tipping point for the judge was that Jeremy “did not encourage meaningful communications with Lyndsey. The court found, in this regard, that Jeremy was ‘more demanding and less flexible’ than Lyndsey—a determination Jeremy has not challenged on appeal.”
The justice continued, “In what the custody evaluator and the circuit court both agreed was a ‘close case,’ the deferential standard of review we must apply is outcome determinative. Jeremy appears, from the record, to be an excellent father, and on our cold record, we can envision the possibility that he might have prevailed. However, our role as a reviewing court forbids us from considering the evidence anew and acknowledges a trial court’s preeminent role in weighing the evidence…Therefore, we conclude that the court’s decision to grant primary physical custody of (the daughter). to Lyndsey was not an abuse of discretion.”