In a move that may influence developments in other states across the US, the South Dakota House of Representatives has given their OK to a child custody bill (“HB 1255") that will potentially give divorced non-custodial fathers greater access to their kids.
The bill, which passed by a healthy 53-16 margin during a vote on Feb 23, would require divorce filings to be filed with the presumption of a 50-50 shared physical child custody between both parents. And while judges would remain empowered to change that ratio – such as when drugs, abuse or other compelling issues are evident -- they would have to provide a written explanation for their decision.
Also of note, the bill would only apply to divorce resolutions in which a judge awards joint legal custody -- where both parties have input in where the child goes to school, medical decisions, and other vital issues. For resolutions where a single parent is awarded sole physical custody, the bill would have no impact.
Supporters of the bill claim that children of divorced parents would be the biggest benefactors of the change. They point to studies that suggest children of divorced parents who share physical custody tend to do better academically, and suffer fewer emotional problems.
Critics of the bill are, however, attacking the move as short-sighted and harmful for children; especially when parents aren’t located in the same city. Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, a vocal opponent of the bill, claims that such scenarios will result in children “living out of suitcases.”
Another opponent of the bill, Mark Feinstein, D-Sioux Falls, warns that judges may cease awarding joint legal custody altogether, if they know that doing so will trigger a complex and contentious shared physical custody argument.
The bill will next be heard in the South Dakota Senate Health and Human Services committee.
Divorce Magazine will publish an update if and when this significant child custody bill becomes law in
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