What Are the Child Custody Laws in South Dakota?

What are the best interests of the child?

Affectionate mother with daughter in bed
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If you live in South Dakota and you're going through a breakup that involves minor children, you should get to know the state's child custody laws. On the other hand, you might have broken up with your ex long ago, but circumstances have changed that require a new parenting plan. Maybe one of you has moved, remarried or developed some financial or personal problems. Maybe your child has expressed a desire to live with one parent full time and not the other.

South Dakota uses several criteria to determine child custody, a list of factors determined to help identify what type of custody arrangement is in the child's best interests. 

The Best Interests of the Child

South Dakota courts consider the following factors when determining the best interests of the child. The child's preference for custody carries some significant weight if the child is of sufficient age and maturity to make a reasonable decision. This is generally considered to be age 12 or older. Most custody decisions are made based on the child's wishes when a child is mature enough to express his feelings. 

The court will also consider each parent's ability to act as the child's primary custodian, as well as the suitability of each parent's home. The judge will look at whether either parent has a history of interfering with or impeding the child's relationship with the other parent.

He'll want to know about the active involvement of each parent in the child's day-to-day life, and whether both parents are willing to work toward a healthy joint custody arrangement. 

Under South Dakota law, a parent who has been convicted of domestic violence, child abuse or assault is not fit to have custody.

Joint Custody 

South Dakota law is committed to ordering joint custody whenever it's feasible. This trend has been in place since the passage and enactment of the South Dakota Shared Parenting Law in July 2014. Judges are charged with determining whether the child will suffer psychologically, emotionally and/or developmentally if joint custody is not awarded. 

A South Dakota court may order or ask the parents to agree on how the following issues will be handled in a joint custody arrangement: where the child will reside and when, where he will attend school, his medical and dental care, and other responsibilities serving his best interests.

Even when joint custody is not ordered, both parents have a legal right to the child's medical and school records. 

Parental Relocation 

A custodial parent who is looking to relocate must provide reasonable notice, via certified mail, to the other parent at least 45 days before any intended relocation. An exception exists if their custody order specifies other provisions for this type of situation, and a shorter period of notice is acceptable under certain circumstances.

The court doesn't require notice if the child will live closer to the noncustodial parent after the move or if the parent is moving within the child's current school district.

Also, no notice is required if there is an order of protection in favor of the custodial parent against the noncustodial parent, or if the noncustodial parent has been convicted of domestic violence, child abuse or assault within the past 12 months.

The notice of the relocation must include the address and telephone number of the new residence, an explanation of why the relocation is in the child's best interests, the purpose of the relocation, and the new, proposed visitation plan for the non-relocating parent. The parent who is not relocating has a right to file an objection with the court, asking a judge to decide the matter. 

For more information about child custody in South Dakota, speak with a qualified attorney there or refer to the South Dakota Domestic Relations statue.