Child Custody Laws in South Dakota

Guide to Child Custody Laws in South Dakota

Splitting from the other parent of your child is never easy, and custody battles can be emotionally charged.  South Dakota parents should keep themselves aware of child custody laws in South Dakota, so that they can better navigate the family court system.  This guide will explain the types of custody that may be awarded in a custody case in South Dakota.

Can Children Decide?

In some states, a child's wishes for which parent to live with are generally respected by the court after a certain age (usually for older teenagers).  However, child custody laws in South Dakota, like those in a number of other states, use the best interest of the child as their legal standard.  

Because of this, while a child's wishes will be considered by a judge if the child appears to be making a reasonable decision, they will not be the only factor.  Children can only make a unilateral decision about who to live with after they have turned 18.

Legal Custody

Whichever parent (or parents) is responsible for making major decisions on behalf of a child is said to be the child's legal custodian.  Child custody laws in South Dakota make a presumption that joint custody is in the best interest of the child, unless that presumption is rebutted by evidence in the courtroom.

Joint legal custody means that parents must consult with each other and agree upon major life decisions for the child, including choices about healthcare and education.  Sole legal custody, which is only awarded if evidence shows joint legal custody would not be in the best interest of the child, means that the custodial parent no longer has to share decision making responsibilities with the non-custodial parent.

Physical Custody

Physical custody refers to where the child will live.  Judges may award physical custody solely to one parent, split a child's time evenly, or award primary physical custody to one parent and a smaller amount of physical custody to the other.  Child custody laws in South Dakota were nearly amended in 2011 to make the court's default award of physical custody a 50/50 split, but the bill died in the Senate.  That law, if passed, would have been the first of its kind in the nation.

Without that bill passing, judges still retain the ability to award physical custody based on the best interest of the child.  Child custody laws in South Dakota usually result in one parent being awarded primary custody.


Generally, visitation schedules will allow a parent without primary physical custody to see their children frequently (unless the non-custodial parent lives further away, which may lead to longer but less frequent visitation).  Child custody laws in South Dakota allow supervised visitation in circumstances where the parent being awarded visitation may present a flight risk or otherwise endanger the health and safety of a child by being unsupervised.

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