Local custody fight settledState Supreme Court reverses local judge’s decision, giving custody to father over maternal grandparents.
By: Chris Mueller, The Daily Republic
PIERRE — The South Dakota Supreme Court has given a Mitchell man custody of his two children, reversing a circuit judge’s decision to give custody to the children’s maternal grandparents.
The Supreme Court found First Circuit Judge Sean O’Brien was mistaken when he ruled Jered Mandel gave up the right to have custody of his two children, currently ages 5 and 6, simply because the children’s maternal grandparents, Doug and Kari Veldheer, were their primary caregivers for part of 2008, all of 2009 and most of 2010.
Oral arguments in the case were presented to the Supreme Court on Oct. 1. The ruling was issued Wednesday.
The case began in January 2008 when Mandel and the children’s mother, Angela Peterson, separated and began to share custody of their two children.
“Due to a deterioration of the parents’ relationship, difficulties with communication, conflicting work schedules and financial struggles, the parents began to increasingly rely on the Veldheers,” the decision says.
Peterson gained full custody of the children in July 2008 as a result of a child support proceeding, but the children continued to live with the Veldheers.
“I wanted the kids, and it was out of my control,” Mandel is quoted as testifying in the decision. “I was told I didn’t have custody.”
Mandel filed a motion to gain custody of the children in July 2010. A month later, Mandel and Peterson were temporarily granted joint custody on alternating weeks. The children stayed with Mandel during his weeks and with the Veldheers during Peterson’s weeks, the decision says.
A three-day custody trial was held in August 2011, with Mandel and the Veldheers both seeking full custody of the children. Peterson, the decision says, wished the Veldheers to raise the children for now, but ultimately wanted the children to live with her later.
O’Brien awarded custody to the Veldheers and granted visitation rights to Mandel. The Supreme Court reversed the decision and granted custody to Mandel. Because the Veldheers are not the parents of the children, the decision says, they must clearly prove granting custody to Mandel would cause serious harm to the children.
“There was no clear and convincing evidence that awarding full custody to (Mandel) would cause the children serious detriment,” the new decision says.