Home lawmakers kill invoice to push joint custody in divorces

Pierre, SD (AP) – A South Dakota lawmakers committee on Wednesday turned down a proposal to urge judges to split child custody evenly between divorced parents after opponents argued it could bind abuse victims to their ex-partners.

The issue of custody in divorce proceedings has become a recurring battle in the legislature, driven by Republican MP Tom Pischke after his own controversial divorce and custody battle.

“I know this system,” said Pischke. “It doesn’t work.”

While Pischke helped draw up this year’s bill, he wasn’t the main sponsor. Instead, Rep. Tamara St. John, a Republican from Sisseton, introduced the bill requiring divorced parents to prove to a judge that equal custody is not in the best interests of the child.

Proponents argued that children of divorced parents benefit from spending time with both parents. They said there was a nationwide effort to urge judges to share custody evenly, citing a Kentucky law and bills in other state legislatures.

Opponents, including lawyers for domestic violence victims, said the law change would have allowed abusers to continue to exercise control over their victims.

Diana Miller, a lobbyist for the South Dakota Network against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, described the current law as the “gold standard” of custody as it puts judges in charge of the child’s best interests.

Republican lawmakers who voted against the bill stated that the bill would apply to divorce proceedings that were already being challenged and that the requirement for joint custody would become problematic.

Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt, a Republican from Sioux Falls, got emotional when she spoke about the difficulty of divorce but said she opposed the bill because it puts focus on child welfare.

“I don’t think we can legally oblige parents to get along,” she said.

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