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Shared Parenting Bill Gains Momentum

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For several years, a group of advocates for shared parenting have been working to make sure mothers and fathers play an equal role in their childrens' lives.

After several failed attempts to pass a shared parenting bill, advocates and lawmakers believe this could be the year they get one step closer toward equal parenting rights.

"The best interest of the child, proven in research is as equal time as possible with two good parents," said Casey Wilson, a shared parenting advocate.

Current South Dakota custody laws often lead to a very different reality.

"We have a set of parenting guidelines that advocate for a four day per month schedule wtih the non-custodial parent," said Wilson.

An amount of time that advocates of shared parenting say is unacceptable when both parents are fit.

"The current system almost advocates for controversy," said Grant Houwman, an advocate for shared parenting.

Some say current South Dakota law designates a winner and a loser in child custody cases.

"My attorney explained to me, for you to get shared parenting, you've got to prove that your wife is an unfit mother. Well, my ex-wife, while our marriage didn't work, she was a very good mother," said Houwman.

Which is why organizers of the shared parenting movement in South Dakota say they've been working for the past four years to bring fairness to custody laws.

"In past years, we've submitted bills that gave a rebuttable presumption of 50-50 custody to both parents," said Wilson.

The South Dakota Legislature has voted that down for the past several years, but advocates and legislators hope that will change this time around.

"What the shared parenting bill does is it starts off first by having judges consider joint custody," said State Sen. Dan Lederman.

Lederman says changes to this year's bill gives it a better shot than previous years.

"In the last four years, we've tried doing bills that would have a rebuttable presumption of joint physical custody," said Lederman.

Working with the South Dakota State Bar, this year's Senate Bill 74 has some changes.

"It's a compromise. It just sets up a set of guidelines that the courts will follow to decide whether you have fit parents. It does not have a presumption of shared parenting," said Wilson.

Meaning the decision still lies in the hands of the judge.

"We have a lot of support from legislators, from constituents. So I'm really positive about the passage of the bill," said Lederman.

"We need a system that really encourages that bonding experience that both parents can stay involved in a child's life," said Houwman.

Advocates of the shared parenting bill say research shows children who grow up with the absence of one parent have a higher risk of teenage pregnancy, incarceration, and dropping out of school.

If you'd like to learn more about the shared parenting bill, you can visit their facebook page here .

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