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OPINION: Time is right for changes to state custody laws

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Mad Dads. This was the term given our movement about a decade ago when men first started to collectively stand up for themselves in Casey Wilson, South Dakota Shared Parentingdivorce and child custody situations.

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Men. Wanting actual time with their kids, not just someone the kids could maybe visit every other weekend or if mom felt like it.

No one at that time wanted to listen.

Years later here in South Dakota, the movement resurged as the Coalition for Shared Parenting. Still, few would listen. We were still almost all dads. And how could dads be interested in being as much a part of their kids’ lives in divorce as they were while an intact family?

Almost a decade has passed since that first outcry for help. The South Dakota Shared Parenting initiative today only continues to grow. What’s unique about the voices that grow louder about the injustice of our state’s current outdated, imbalanced, irresponsible, lacking of any continuity and money-grubbing divorce and child-placement policies, is that many of them belong to the women in our state. Women who are perhaps non-custodial parents themselves — moms, step-moms, grandparents, aunts, friends, etc., who have become keenly aware of why things need to change. Women seeing first-hand in remarriages of their own how unfairly their now-husband was treated going through his divorce and how perhaps she might have done things differently going through her own divorce as well.

More than 50 percent of all marriages currently end in divorce. More often than not, children are involved. The current standard encourages fighting, a winner and a loser, one home for these kids and one place they get to visit twice a month. The plea going out to our legislators is for an equal parenting standard. Two places to call home. Equal opportunity to love both parents and have both parents love them. Equal time with two fit parents whenever and wherever possible. Each of these things has been shown in study after study in recent years to benefit our kids, not hurt them as lobbyists would have our legislators believe. South Dakota legislators feel current law is good enough if their votes are any indication — a belief fed to them by those that stand to gain the most (your money) in any divorce proceeding, the State Bar.

We should all consider this unacceptable for a state that claims to put family values first. There are approximately 160 laws in South Dakota dealing with child support and its enforcement. There are only two laws in dealing with a parent being denied visitation rights and enforcing that visitation. The state receives $7 million in grants for child-support enforcement, $100,000 to enforce visitation rights. Do you know how often parents are denied visitation with their kids with the only recourse to call an attorney and take the other parent back to court in hopes a judge will force them to allow the alienated parent time with their children?

When will this game end? And who’s losing out here? If the goal is to do what’s best for our kids, let’s cut to the chase and get this done this year. In cases where both parents are found fit and capable and where they live in close residential proximity, grant equal parenting time and decision-making powers. This arrangement has been proven by virtually every study over the past 30 years to be best for children, even when both parents do not originally agree to it.

Supporters of South Dakota Shared Parenting are happily sharing publicly the names of legal and political professionals who support equal parenting and oppose promoting conflict, false allegations and parental alienation. We hope you’ll check out our small but growing list, support these people where you can and keep them in mind when it comes to voting at the polls or voting with your dollar.

If you feel shared parenting is what’s in the best interest of our children and families, please contact your legislator and ask they represent your vote this year.

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

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