March 13, 2011
Bill on Equal Time Presumption Dies in SD Senate
SD Senate kills joint custody bill:
The South Dakota Senate rejected a measure Tuesday to encourage more divorced parents to equally share custody of their children, despite months of campaigning by a political action group established to get such a law passed.
The bill would have required judges in a custody dispute to presume that both parents should get equal time with their children, unless one parent waives joint custody or proves the other parent shouldn't have the same amount of time.
Supporters said it would protect the rights of fathers and ensure that children have access to both parents after a divorce. "The bill helps ensure both parents are equal in the eyes of the court," said Sen. Dan Lederman, R-Dakota Dunes.
But others argued the bill would restrict the ability of judges to decide custody disputes and would cause more strife between parents. Sen. Joni Cutler, R-Sioux Falls, said Tuesday that the bill would unfairly treat children as "property to be equally divided."
The Senate voted 20-13 to reject the bill. The South Dakota House had already passed it.
Major bill supporters included two lobbyists from a new group, the Children Need Parents PAC, founded to advocate a change to state custody laws.
Cutler argued Tuesday that the bill would set South Dakota's custody laws apart from other states with joint custody.
"Why would we want a standard less than the best interests of the children of South Dakota?" she said. "There's a reason no other state has done this, and we shouldn't either.
Senators made at least three references to the actor Charlie Sheen — an example, they said, of parents who don't deserve joint custody. "Under this bill, Charlie Sheen has immediate physical custody half of the time of his children," Cutler said.
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