South Dakota House of Representatives Passes Equally Shared Parenting Bill

The South Dakota House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed House Bill 1255 that would establish a presumption of equally-shared parenting post divorce.  Here’s an article on the vote (Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 2/23/11). 

The vote was 53 – 16.  By my count, 45 Republicans, seven Democrats and one independent voted in favor, while 12 Democrats and four Republicans voted against.

The South Dakota Senate is made up of 30 Republicans and 5 Democrats.

I reported on this bill last week when it passed the Judiciary Committee on its way to the House floor.  It is now before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

It’s a simple bill that would presume equal parenting time in cases in which joint legal custody is awarded.   Like all presumptions, the bill would place the burden on the party opposing equal physical custody to produce clear and convincing evidence that joint custody would not be in the child’s best interests.

The bill of course provides that evidence of a proven history of domestic violence by a parent could be introduced to overcome the presumption.  The bill also encourages parents to agree on their own parenting plan rather than rely on a judge to order one.

Judges who rule that the presumption in favor of equal parenting time has been rebutted, would be required to explain their decision in writing.

The article sketches opponents’ arguments against the bill and, they’re predictably threadbare.  For example, Democrat Peggy Gibson claimed that the bill would require children to “live out of suitcases,” i.e. force them to be continually on the move between Dad and Mom.

That of course is bunk.  The current system of primary custodian/visitor has children shuttling back and forth between parents with no outcry from Gibson or others opposed to fathers’ remaining connected to their children post-divorce.  If a dad has the child every weekend, the child spends five days with Mom, packs up and moves to Dad’s house for two days, packs up again and moves back in with Mom.

Under a 50-50 split, parents and judges would be free to choose what works best for the children and parents.  Is two weeks with Mom then two weeks with Dad best?  Fine, the judge can sign off on that.  Three weeks/three weeks?  One month/one month? 

All of that and more are acceptable under equally-shared parenting laws.  So in fact, there’s every chance that children will actually move less, not more, than they do under the standard orders currently in force.

Interestingly, the article quotes one South Dakota House member who has an equally-shared parenting arrangement with his ex contradicting the claims of opponents of the bill.

Hartford Republican Bob Deelstra challenged that assumption, pointing to his own daughter as an example. He shares custody and said his daughter excels in school because of the concern and involvement of both her parents.

“People want to know how the system works, I say it works very well,” Deelstra said. “She doesn’t live out of a suitcase.”

Notice that he says she does well “because of the concern and involvement of both her parents.”  That’s the whole point of equally-shared parenting laws; they allow fit parents to continue to be involved in their children’s lives post divorce.  Current judicial preferences that one parent become a “visitor” with their children tend to thwart that involvement.

Meanwhile, Joel Arends, a lobbyist supporting the bill provided the last word on opponents’ claims.

“That’s the kind of scare tactic people are going to use to stop this bill, ” Arends said. “I think 53 members of the House saw through that today.”

Needless to say, I’ll keep you posted on the progress of the bill that won so handily in the South Dakota House of Representatives.

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