Joint Custody Bill Dies On Senate Floor
By Kealey Bultena
South Dakota Senators have killed legislation that changes the way courts handle child custody cases in the state, and lawmakers are divided on what’s best for a child caught in a divorce.
Senator Dan Lederman says House Bill 1255 gives children and parents the best opportunity in court, because judges presume both parents have equal custody over a child.
"This gives children a chance to have both parents, if they’re fit, to continue to be active in the child’s life after the divorce. The bill is child-centered, because it requires a judge to look at best interest of children if he or she overrides the presumption," Lederman says.
But that “if” is why Senator Joni Cutler opposes the bill. She says the best interest of the child is secondary to a 50-50 split between the parents, and that’s often not how parenting works.
"Maybe we should pass a law that all parents, married or not, should spend equal time with their children. But that would be ignoring the realities of life," Cutler says.
Cutler and other Senators say legislating cooperation between parents doesn’t solve the emotional challenges of divorce involving children, and the measure treats children like property.
The bill failed in the Senate by a vote of 13 to 20.
Member stations download audio file here.