March 6, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The South Dakota House of Representatives passed SB 74 three days ago and, since the bill already passed the Senate, it will now go to Governor Dennis Daugaard to be signed into law. Here’s my most recent piece on the legislation. Here’s an article on the passage of SB 74 (KDLT, 3/3/14).
As I said, SB 74 doesn’t herald a brave new world of shared parenting in South Dakota. As we’ve seen all too frequently, legislation is just half the battle. The other half is getting judges to implement it in the spirit intended. The intention of the South Dakota legislature is clear: judges must give serious credence to the notion of shared parenting. They must also pay attention to parental alienation, denial of visitation, the potential damage to the child of removing one parent from its life, false allegations of abuse or neglect and whether a parent actively supports the other parent’s relationship with the child.
SB 74 is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t get us even close to the goal of equal parenting that social science shows to be in children’s best interests as long as both parents are fit.
One of the problems with child custody legislation is that it’s essentially never informed by data on actual child custody practices within a given state. Indeed, Nebraska’s foray into data gathering is the only one of its kind in the country. The results of that exercise were eye-opening, to say the least. They not only demonstrated a radically anti-father bias on the part of judges, but an almost complete absence of the type of parental conflict, unfitness, child abuse, spousal abuse, etc., that opponents of shared parenting have long touted as reasons to keep fathers out of their children’s lives.
Absent information about what happens presently in family courts, it’s hard to know in the future whether a given law has changed anything. So the South Dakota legislature can pat itself on the back and tell the world it’s struck a blow for shared parenting, and maybe it has. But until it spends some money to find out what really goes on in child custody cases, members can’t know the truth about the situation or whether they’ve made things better.
Here’s an idea: the Nebraska Office of the Court Administrator spent about $250,000 to design a protocol and gather and analyze data on child custody cases there. That’s not a huge amount of money and, since the study has already been designed, other states should just follow the same methodology, spend a little money and ascertain what their own courts have been up to. Of course there will be some parameters that are state-specific. For example, Nebraska chose years to study that extended before and after amendments to the state’s child custody law came into effect. Different states would probably survey different years.
But the template exists. Other states should use it. Two years from now, South Dakota should do just what Nebraska did and find out whether SB 74 had a real effect on child custody orders. Other states should do so just to establish a base line of information. State legislatures can’t pass effective child custody laws if they don’t know the reality of child custody orders.
National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization
National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved? Here’s how:
Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.
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