Currently only seven of 50 states in the United States have a presumption of shared custody when a child custody issue is decided in a divorce case. One more state may join that child custody perspective if the proposed law makes its way through the South Dakota state legislature. Currently, like many other states, South Dakota law decides the issue of primary custody on the basis of what parent will be the child's primary caregiver. Supporters of the new bill argue the current primary custody law makes it more difficult for fathers' rights to be recognized.
Generally, shared custody either means parents share equal joint legal and physical custody rights or both parents share the right to legal custody equally. In a joint legal and physical custody situation both parents equally share in making long-term decisions about the welfare of the child, and parents split time evenly regarding everyday care of the child. In a joint legal custody situation the child predominantly lives with one parent but both parents have the right to make long-term decisions for the child.
According to the United States Census Bureau nearly 83 percent of custodial parents in divorced families are mothers, and according to the organization Children Need Parents noncustodial parents only see their children three to six days per month. Believing the child custody scales were tipped against fathers legislators proposed the bill. One supporter of the bill said the fact that fathers are the custodial parent 15 percent of the time was not right. Opponents of the law say the proposed law would take away a judge's discretion to decide the best interests of the child and that non-custodial parents can already request joint custody.
Source: Argus Leader, "Bill aimed at helping fathers in custody cases moves ahead," John Hult, 2/16/11