When there is a South Dakota child custody dispute between a divorcing couple, judges in South Dakota are instructed to make “balanced and methodical” assessments of what arrangement is in the best interests of the child involved. Several factors are considered in order to determine what is best for the child’s emotional, physical, and mental health. Some of these factors include the stability and fitness of the parents, which parent has been acting as the primary caregiver, and which parent is most likely to encourage a loving and positive relationship between the child and other parent.
Should children involved in a case be old enough and mature enough, it is also possible for the court to consider their wishes when it comes to South Dakota child custody, as they are permitted to state their preference for whom they want to reside with. Additionally, the court looks at the history of both parents to uncover any instances or history of abuse to the child or another family member, as well as any history of risky behavior or neglect of the child by either parent.
Child Custody Orders in South Dakota
Once the assessment of the child’s best interests has been completed, the judge makes an order for legal custody and physical custody of the child. Parents who are awarded legal custody have the right and responsibility to make decisions about the child’s education, health, and overall welfare – legal custody can be awarded to either one or both parents. For joint legal custody, both parents need to work together to make decisions – for sole legal custody, the parent with custody is required to keep the other parent fully informed and up to date.
Physical custody, just like legal custody, can be awarded to one or both parents. With this being said, judges in South Dakota most often award sole custody to the parent with whom the child lives with the majority of the time. The parent not awarded custody is then referred to as the noncustodial parent and has a visitation order to see the child on a regular basis. Once these distinctions have been made, they cannot be changed unless there is a “substantial change in circumstances,” and the modifications to the agreement are approved by the family court system.
Visitation Orders in South Dakota
Should the parents be in agreement on a South Dakota child custody and visitation plan, they have the ability to submit this plan to the court before their official custody hearing. This plan should be detailed in how the parents are planning to divide the responsibilities for the child’s care. This includes where the child will live, the doctors and dentists the child will visit, the school system the child will be enrolled in and so on. This plan should also outline a detailed visitation schedule that accounts for vacations, school vacations, holiday, mid-week visitations, and weekend schedules.
An example of a visitation agreement may look like this: the child visits with the noncustodial parent on alternating weekends, two nights during the week, and for one entire week every month. Another example is: the child spends Christmas with the noncustodial parent on odd years and Christmas with the custodial parent on even years. As long as the plan parents create is in the child’s best interests, the court is likely to adopt their plan.
Custody Agreement Modification in South Dakota
While parents do not have the ability to make changes on their own to an agreed upon or court ordered custody agreement, it is possible for them to make requests for modification. Modifications to custody agreements most often occur as children age and their needs and schedules begin to change. Additionally, a modification may be required if one or both parents’ work schedules change or if one parent gets a new job. Should the parents be in agreement with the proposed modifications and they are within the child’s best interests, the court is likely adopt the changes and make them legally binding within the agreement.
The issues of South Dakota child custody modification become more difficult when one parent wishes to make a change that the other parent does not agree with. In these cases, the modification request still needs to go through the court system, but it is up to the parent making the request to prove why it is necessary. This parent needs to convince the judge, beyond any doubt, that the proposed South Dakota child custody modification is needed and that the changes being made benefit the child involved. Since too many modifications to a custody agreement can be disruptive to a child’s upbringing, judges generally only approve those modifications that are absolutely necessary.
Custody Agreement and Relocation in South Dakota
Relocation issues can become very difficult to deal with, especially if one parent has sole physical custody and the other parent has a visitation order. Should both parents agree to the relocation and the move is within the child’s best interests, the judge is very likely to adopt the relocation into the current custody agreement. In addition to approving the relocation, the judge also has to approve any subsequent changes to the custody arrangement that the parents have agreed upon, such as adjusted visitation times with the noncustodial parent.
More than likely, the parents do not agree on the proposed relocation and changes to the South Dakota child custody agreement, which makes the approval process much more difficult. For the noncustodial parent, a relocation could mean spending less time with the child or having to travel a much farther distance in order to see him or her. Again, the parent wishing to relocate is burdened with proving that the move is necessary, as well as with proving that the move will benefit the child involved. Some of the factors the court considers when making this decision include:
- The reason why the relocation is being requested by the custodial parent
- New job
- Better educational opportunities for the child
- Being closer to family/support system
- Better standard of living
- The reason why the noncustodial parent is protesting the relocation
- Where the custodial parent is relocating to and how far away the new location is from the noncustodial parent’s home
- What changes need to be made to the current custody agreement in order to accommodate the relocation
- The relationship between the child and the custodial parent
- The relationship between the child and the noncustodial parent
- The proposed benefits the child will receive from the relocation
- What alternative communications methods are available for the child and the noncustodial parent to keep in touch and who will pay for this communication
- If the relocation is in the child’s best interests