South Dakota law encourages parents to work out custody arrangements themselves without bringing the issue to court. If they cannot come to an agreement, courts make custody decisions based on what is in the "best interest" of the child. Typically, South Dakota courts encourage shared parenting—although this may not result in equal (50/50) parenting time.

What Is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is a detailed, written agreement that sets out how divorcing parents will share legal and physical custody of their children. In South Dakota, parents are strongly encouraged to create a voluntary parenting plan. If parents cannot agree on a plan, they are typically required to mediate their custody dispute.  If mediation is also unsuccessful, the court will assign custody.

What Does the Court Consider in Assigning Custody?

South Dakota courts balance a series of factors when determining the best interest of a child.  These factors include:

  • Who has been the child’s primary caregiver,
  • The depth and quality of the parent-child relationship,
  • The physical and mental health of the child and parents,
  • The distance between the parents’ residences,
  • The parents’ criminal histories,
  • Evidence of child abuse or spousal abuse,
  • The child’s reasonable preference (if age appropriate), and
  • Any other relevant factors.

A parent’s gender is not considered as a factor. South Dakota also has standardized parenting guidelines that may be implemented by the court.

A guardian ad litem may be assigned to advocate for the child and help assess his or her best interests during a custody dispute. The court may also assign a parenting coordinator to help with dispute resolution. 

What Happens When the Court Has Made a Decision?

Once the parenting plan and divorce order are approved, they are filed with the court clerk. Both parents are then bound by the approved custody order and the court must approve any modification of the plan.

Should I Contact a South Dakota Lawyer Regarding my Custody Issues?

Child custody disputes can be emotionally charged and require a detailed understanding of the law. If you have concerns about custody and parenting time, it is important that you speak with an experienced child custody lawyer. A lawyer will help advocate for you and your child and work to secure the best possible parenting arrangement for your family.