Area native supports changes in SD's joint custody lawPIERRE — A Flandreau man is working with state legislators to pass more comprehensive joint child custody legislation during the 2012 session.
By: Anna Jauhola, The Daily Republic
PIERRE — A Flandreau man is working with state legislators to pass more comprehensive joint child custody legislation during the 2012 session.
Casey Wilson, a divorced father of three and native of Plankinton, said current South Dakota law leaves the issue too much to the discretion of judges.
“I am a good dad. I want more time with my kids, to be involved with their activities,” Wilson said. “The legislation is important for the state, for children, fathers, mothers. It’s not pro-father, not pro-mother, but pro-children.”
Rep. Melissa Magstadt, R-Watertown, said current legislation lacks three things:
n A requirement that custody conversations before a judge use equal custody between mother and father, or 50/50 custody, as a starting point;
n A requirement that if 50/50 custody is not granted, the judge must give reasons for the decision; and
n A provision allowing each parent to request a hearing to present evidence.
“There is an allowing of joint physical custody as it stands now, but not the requirement that the custody conversation start at 50/50 custody,” Magstadt said in an e-mail to The Daily Republic.
Wilson and primary sponsors of Senate Bill 60 want to see fair legislation to give all divorcing couples a level playing field.
Sen. Tim Begalka, R-Clear Lake, said he introduced the bill this year even though it failed in the Senate in 2011.
He became more interested in the bill after a male friend expressed the need for the legislation to pass. Begalka said his friend’s situation, along with other constituents’ concerns regarding joint custody of children, helped him make the decision to introduce the bill.
Magstadt said the problems with the existing state visitation guidelines made her interested in supporting SB 60.
“Custody should start at 50/50,” she said.
She said if the bill passes, every couple who goes through divorce will enter child custody situations with room to negotiate.
If an agreement is reached with one parent receiving less than 50/50 custody — an 80/20 split, for example — a judge must give a valid reason why one parent can only have 20 percent joint custody, Magstadt said.
“We want to make it fair for all parents going into the situation,” she said.
Magstadt has personally seen how full custody for only one parent can affect children. She and her husband divorced 20 years ago, and Magstadt received full custody of their daughter.
“There was a bit of a gap left with me having sole custody, without my ex-husband having a role,” she said.
SB 60 will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. Wilson plans to testify and Sen. Begalka said he’s heard several others plan to testify in favor of the bill as well.