Child Custody in South Dakota


Area of Law: 

When a couple divorces and there is a minor child involved, the divorce decree will specify who has physical custody as well as legal custody of the child. Physical custody determines where and with whom the child will live. Legal custody specifies who has the legal right to make important decisions about the child related to issues such as education, religion, medical issues, and discipline. Spouses often reach an agreement regarding child custody on their own, but if they do not, a South Dakota court will intervene and establish custody arrangements based on the best interests of the child. provides a complete summary of divorce and custody laws in the state of South Dakota.


There are typically several different custody arrangements that may be made for children of divorced parents. In most cases, courts will award physical custody to one parent with whom the child will live most of the time. The parent with physical custody, or the custodial parent, often shares legal custody, or the right to make decisions regarding the child, with the non-custodial parent. Many child custody arrangements involve joint custody in which the child spends a relatively equal amount of time with each parent.


According to South Dakota law, the court may award sole or joint child custody based on the best interests of the child. The court may consider the preference of the child if he or she is mature enough to form an intelligent preference. The court will not consider fault unless it is relevant to the fitness of a parent to have custody. South Dakota courts do not show preference towards one parent over the other based on the parent's gender. A parent may seek a modification of the custody award if he or she can show that there has been a change of circumstances that requires a change in custody.


In South Dakota, the court commonly grants the non-custodial parent rights of visitation that are in accordance with the standard guidelines for visitation established by the South Dakota Supreme Court. South Dakota courts encourage the child and the non-custodial parent to maintain a parent-child relationship that is beneficial to the child unless, however, the court finds that the visitation is likely to endanger the child's physical or emotional health. According to South Dakota Codified Law 25-4A-10, the standard guidelines provide a framework for visitation, which includes: the frequency and time for child visitation; the hours or days of visitation; the definitions for weekends, holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions; and the time periods for summer visitations. In establishing the standard guidelines, the court may consider the varying ages and circumstances of the children and act accordingly.


Any visitation agreement made by the parties other than the standard guidelines needs to be laid out in writing, signed by both parties, and filed with the court. The agreed upon plan may then be approved by court order and used as a replacement to the standard guidelines or any other plan that was previously filed. For a comprehensive review of child custody laws in North Dakota, go to