How Allegations of Domestic Abuse Could Affect a Child Custody Decision

In South Dakota as elsewhere, child custody determinations are based on what a judge deems to be in the best interests of the child. In situations where allegations of domestic abuse have been made against one or both parents, a judge is tasked with avoiding a dangerous environment for the children while allowing them reasonable contact with the parents.

Under South Dakota law, domestic abuse is defined as any of the following actions:

  • Causing physical harm
  • Causing bodily injury
  • Attempting to cause physical harm or bodily injury
  • Inflicting fear of imminent physical harm or bodily injury

Allegations of domestic abuse can significantly impact child custody and visitation decisions, even if the allegations are unproved and no criminal charges have been filed. The alleged abuser must offer compelling testimony to the contrary, demonstrating that the child would be safe with him/her. Even a single proven instance of domestic abuse can make it difficult for an abusive parent to win physical custody, which determines where the child resides. However, that parent may still be allowed to share in legal custody, which means participation in important decisions about raising the child.

Visitation rights for an alleged abuser may be limited. In appropriate cases, he or she may be restricted to supervised visitation in the presence of a designated third-party. Supervised visitation can be a temporary measure that is terminated upon the parent’s good behavior.

In a case of severe abuse or neglect of the child, a court may order the termination of parental rights. Such an order may be justified upon proof of sexual abuse of a child, severe abuse causing bodily injury to the child or their siblings or a history of abuse or neglect caused by drug or alcohol dependency. Parental rights may also be terminated if the parent fails to protect the child from harm, has their parental rights to another child terminated or is imprisoned.

The child custody lawyers of Anker Law Group, P.C. have a deep understanding of South Dakota's child custody laws and know how to help our clients win the custody arrangements they are seeking. Call us at 605-519-5967 or contact us online to schedule a free case evaluation at our Rapid City office.

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    Rapid City, South Dakota 57701