Child custody is often a contentious issue for divorced or separated parents. Custody arrangements can profoundly affect parent-child relationships and greatly influence a child’s development. Therefore, it is important for the parents to understand how custody works under state law.

Legal custody generally refers to a parent or guardian’s right to make life choices for a minor child. South Dakota law differentiates “legal custody” from “physical custody” of minor children. Legal custody gives the parent the power to make decisions regarding the child’s medical care, schooling, religious faith, hobbies and activities, etc. One does not necessarily have to have physical custody of the child to have legal custody.

In most cases, the law favors joint legal custody, as both parents are viewed as co-equal authorities in raising their child, so making life choices is usually a joint responsibility. This, of course, can lead to disagreements and conflict. If the parents cannot reach an accord or compromise on a certain issue, then the court might have to settle the matter. The preference for joint legal custody will not apply in all cases. A parent may be denied legal custody based on personal misconduct, neglect, or other factors.

Physical custody refers to where and with whom a minor child will live until reaching adulthood. The parents oftentimes share physical custody of a minor child, though, unlike legal custody, it is not often shared equally as constantly switching residences can be de-stabilizing for a child.

While many parents agree on custody related issues, some parents are unable reach an accord. In cases of disagreement, the courts often intervene and will consider the needs and wishes of each parent. That said, the most important factor in any custody decision is the child’s best interests. The court must ensure that any custody arrangement is, first and foremost, one that will benefit the child.

Anker Law Group handles all aspects of South Dakota family law and provides each client with practical and compassionate advice on custody matters. Feel free to contact us online or call 605-519-5967 for an initial consultation at our Rapid City office.

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    Rapid City, South Dakota 57701