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OPINION: Equal-parenting legislation in best interest of children

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Casey Wilson, South Dakota Shared Parenting  There are a lot of issues facing our great state and nation, and many will be commanding attention as we approach another legislative session in South Dakota. But one bill a growing number of families affected by divorce are already looking for and inquiring about is that of further and better equal-parenting legislation.

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While our government and much of the media are quick to point out that fatherlessness and lack of father involvement are some of the biggest societal problems we have, South Dakota’s outdated laws actually promote alienating one parent to a four-days-per-month parenting schedule. Most often in our state, but not always, that parent is the father.

These same laws give one-parent majority control by sheer nature of the situation. Behind closed doors in families that have yet to heal from the pain and tragedy of divorce, custodial parents often find it easy to use their position as a weapon against the other parent when it comes to things like contact with the kids, decision-making on important issues such as medical care, school activities, schedules, etc. Often the only way to try to come to better terms in an adversarial custody situation that’s negatively affecting the kids — as well as shutting one parent and often their extended families out of the kids’ lives they love more than anything — is to re-litigate. Expensive, and in our state, often futile.

Ask children of intact families “which parent can I do without?” Most kids, if not all, would say, “Both parents are important.” Or, “I love them both.”

Why does our court system then, through divorce proceedings, essentially remove many fit parents or reduce them to a very small part of our kids’ lives?

There is a growing amount of evidence showing removing a good parent from a child’s life, whether it’s mom or dad, leads to problems and emotional distress for children. In cases, however, where the father is the one removed as an equal parenting figure, (the U.S. Census shows 43 percent of U.S. children live without their fathers) girls tend to go out seeking more male attention — 71 percent of teenage pregnancies lack a father figure in their lives, 71 percent of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes, 75 percent of adolescents in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes, and 67 percent of prison inmates are from single-parent homes.

Opponents to equal parenting say we must give our judges the discretion to rule on what is the “best interest of the child” on each case. While I fully agree we need to always do what is in the best interest of the child, the latitude our judges currently have is based more off of their own personal experience and biases than what a growing amount of social science research shows and has proven is in a child’s best interest. To be clear, that is: as equal time as possible with both parents in a family with two fit, capable, loving parents and where the situation allows (residential proximity). A fit parent will always act in the “best interest of the child.”

South Dakota has given judges too much discretion over the lives of families for decades, unfairly tearing children away from one parent or the other.  These judges are not trained in mental health or parental fitness. That a case could be heard in Davison County versus Minnehaha County and the exact same case has a totally different outcome is just one indication the system needs to change. Our judges need clear and better guidelines to make decisions that are genuinely in the best interest of our children.

It is up to our state legislators to provide those guidelines. South Dakota Shared Parenting members and many more families we talk with are hopeful this conversation will lead to more equal parenting rights for fit, loving and capable parents this year. Because that is what is in the best interest of our children.

-Casey Wilson, of Flandreau and formerly of Plankinton, started South Dakota Shared Parenting, a group that advocates for equal-parenting rights.

st

Tip

triggered meat plant probes

Texas

man says he took EB-5 information to FBI

By

BOB MERCER

Capitol

Correspondent

PIERRE

— A Texas lawyer said this week he gave information to the FBI and

to a U.S. senator that triggered investigations of several South

Dakota meatpacking projects that received money from immigrant

investors seeking U.S. visas under the federal EB-5 program.

Kirby

Roberts, whose office is at Port Aransas, Texas, says he has been

involved in representing one side of a leadership split in the

Hutterite Church since 1993 that has put him on the opposite side of

dozens of colonies in the region.

Roberts

said he became familiar with the Dakota Provisions turkey processing

operation at Huron, which is owned by Hutterite colonies. Roberts

said he in turn became knowledgeable about aspects of the Northern

Beef Packers plant at Aberdeen.

Roberts

said he met with FBI agents in Minneapolis in November 2011 regarding

those projects and the EB-5 investments in them.

Roberts

said he has reason to believe, based on what he was told by a witness

who was interviewed by the FBI, that the FBI began an investigation

in March 2012. The witness, Bob Breukelman, confirmed that timeline

in an interview Thursday.

“There

are some issues that need to be and are being investigated,”

Breukelman said.

Breukelman,

now of Huron, was construction manager for the Northern Beef plant

and served on the company’s board.

Breukelman

Thursday said he was questioned last year and has been questioned

again this year by the FBI regarding financial circumstances

involving the project.

Breukelman

said he gave information to the FBI about both the Aberdeen and Huron

projects.

“They

have talked to me a few times,” he said. “As I receive

information, I’m supposed to call them and let them know.”

Breukelman

said the current scope of the FBI’s investigation appears to be

“predominantly in regard to the turkey plant in Huron.”

Aberdeen

attorney Jeffrey Sveen is chairman of the board for the Dakota Turkey

Growers business, and is one of two managers for Dakota Gobblers,

according to documents from the state. The two businesses are part of

the turkey processing operation. He was also involved in some

financial matters involving the Aberdeen beef plant, according to

records at the Brown County Clerk of Courts office.

Sveen

also represents dozens of Hutterite colonies in the region on the

opposite side of the dispute from attorney Roberts.

The

Dakota Provisions turkey processing plant at Huron is owned by 44

grower-owners, most of them Hutterite colony farms, according to the

company’s web site.

Breukelman

said the FBI also was interested in the change of ownership of the

Aberdeen beef plant from one of its founders, Dennis Hellwig of

Aberdeen, to Oshik Song, an EB-5 investor from South Korea who

relocated to the Minneapolis area.

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