Supreme Court hears Mitchell custody caseFather claims his children's grandparents should not have been granted full custody.
By: Chris Mueller, The Daily Republic
PIERRE — The case of a Mitchell man who claims he should have been given custody of his two children after a lengthy legal battle went before the South Dakota Supreme Court earlier this week.
Oral arguments were presented Monday by the attorneys in the case. Appellant Jered Mandel’s attorney Dava A. Wermers, of Mitchell, summarized the case for the court.
Mandel and Angela Peterson lived together in Mitchell with their two young children until separating in January 2008. The couple began caring for the children on alternate weeks, with Peterson’s parents, Doug and Kari Veldheer, also occasionally helping out. Mandel filed a motion for custody in July 2010, Wermers said. A trial was scheduled for April 2010 but was delayed when the Veldheers filed a motion to intervene, seeking custody themselves. Following a trial, Judge Sean O’Brien granted full custody of the children to the Veldheers.
Wermers argued the Veldheers never should have been allowed to intervene. O’Brien allowed the intervention because he ruled the Veldheers developed a “significant relationship” with the children, she said.
Wermers said the “extraordinary circumstances” required by state law to allow non-parents to apply for custody of children were never met.
“Parents are going to fear losing their kids if they allow them to have these substantial relationships with teachers, with day-care providers, with grandparents,” Wermers said.
She also argued that Mandel never gave up his parental rights and requested the court grant Mandel custody of his children.
The Veldheers’ attorney Tressa L. Zahrbock Kool, of Sioux Falls, argued her clients had been the children’s primary caregivers.
“There was a clear difference for these children at the two different homes,” she said.
Peterson’s attorney Donna Bucher, of Mitchell, said Peterson asked her parents for help because she knew she and Mandel weren’t prepared to care for their children.
“When it became tough, they were still children themselves,” Bucher said. “They looked to the parental figures they knew would accept the responsibility.”
During rebuttal, Wermers again argued that, despite concerns over the quality of Mandel’s parenting, the law had not been correctly applied.
“We can all be criticized,” she said. “We can all do something better, but we still have that fundamental right and interest in raising our children.”
The court will rule on the case at some future date.