South Dakota Custody and Visitation Schedules

How do I make my South Dakota custody and visitation schedule?

You can create your own custody and visitation schedule (on your own or with the other parent) or you can work with an attorney or legal professional and have them create it. If you don't want to pay the high cost of an attorney, and want to easily make your own schedule, you can use the Custody X Change software.

Custody X Change is software that creates custody schedules, calendars, and professional parenting plan documents.

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In South Dakota, how can I use the law to help me make a schedule?

When creating a child visitation schedule in the State of South Dakota, it is important to be aware of the laws governing child custody and visitation in the State so you will be able to make a schedule the court will approve.

These laws are found in the South Dakota Codified Laws, Title 25, Domestic Relations.

The law allows parents who are willing to create a parenting plan (which includes a child visitation schedule) to submit their plan to the courts in lieu of being assigned a custody arrangement and visitation schedule by the court, according to general guidelines.

The law also clearly defines the terminology used by the courts and describes some of the procedures the court uses.

Understanding the law and applying it to your child visitation schedule is a good way to ensure the needs of your child are being met, and that your child visitation schedule will not be rejected due to a failure to comply with the law.

In South Dakota, doesn't the mother usually get custody of the child?

In the State of South Dakota, the law does not discriminate or favor one parent over the other based on gender. Mothers and fathers are equally entitled to seek and be awarded custody of their child.

In fact, prior to filing a motion in a custody matter before the court, married parents are considered to be equals, when it comes to being parents. They are both considered to be the natural guardians of their child and have equal rights and responsibilities.

In South Dakota, how is the process different for unmarried parents?

When parents are unmarried, the mother is considered to be the sole custodian of the child, until the matter is brought before the court and paternity is established (SDCL § 25-5-10).

However, the father of a child born out of wedlock is still able to obtain custody of the child, as long as the court finds it would be in the child's best interests.

These laws were created on the assumption that a married man is the father of his wife's baby, and were written to protect unmarried parents by making it necessary to establish paternity before becoming obligated to be the guardian and custodian of a child.

This also protects single mothers from having their child taken by a man claiming he is the father or her child.

In South Dakota, what does the court base custody decisions on?

The court considers the best interests of the child at all times when making decisions in child custody cases. The court looks at the circumstances as a whole and rulings are made based upon "the big picture".

The court will consider all relevant factors in the child's life, including:

  • The established relationships with the child
  • Which parent has served as the child's primary caregiver
  • The quality of life each parent is able to provide the child
  • Whether a parent can provide a safe, nurturing environment, adequate shelter, food, clothing and medical care
  • Whether the child can live free from abuse, neglect, domestic violence, substance abuse problems, and other harmful situations
  • The child's relationships with people other than the parents, such as any siblings, and extended family
  • The behavior (including criminal convictions) of other people that frequent the homes of the parents
  • The preference of the child if the child is old enough and mature enough to voice an educated opinion as to custody (SDCL § 25-4-45)
  • All relevant aspects in a child's life
What are the South Dakota Visitation Guidelines?

The South Dakota Visitation Guidelines can be found in the Appendix to Chapter 25-4A in the South Dakota Codified Laws. There are several very detailed custody schedules that have been created for children of various ages and various circumstances.

Some examples of some schedules from the Guidelines are:

  • Infants (0 to 6 months): The non-residential parent can have three 2-hour visits per week with one weekend day for six hours
  • Infants (6 to 18 months): The non-residential parent can have three 3-hour visits per week with one weekend day for six hours
  • Toddlers (18 to 36 months): The noncustodial parent can have the child up to three times per week for a few hours on each visit, on a predictable schedule
  • Preschoolers (3 to 5 years): The non-custodial parent can have one overnight visit on alternate weekends and one midweek visit

As you can see, following the schedules in the Guidelines may NOT be what is best for your child. A five year old being allowed to see the parent he doesn't live with only once a week for a few hours and one night every other weekend might not seem very fair to anyone.

Fortunately, these guidelines are only the bare minimum time requirements and you are free to make your own custody and visitation schedules.

What should I include in my South Dakota custody and visitation schedule?

When parents are able to agree on a child visitation schedule and other parenting arrangements, they are no longer subject to being assigned custody arrangements that fit within the criteria of the "standard guidelines" of South Dakota, and they are free to create the schedule as they see fit (SDCL § 25-4A-12).

Child visitation schedules in the State of South Dakota should contain the following elements:

  • A regular residential schedule that specifies the days and times the child will spend with each parent on a regular basis. This schedule should be created in a manner that provides the child with predictable, frequent, ongoing visitation with each parent.
  • A holiday schedule that allows the child equitable time with each parent for holidays. Many parents elect to rotate the holidays, alternating them in even and odd years. You are free to create the holiday schedule however you would like, as long as it serves the best interests of the child. The holiday schedule always takes precedence over the regular residential schedule.
  • A vacation schedule, or provisions for spending vacation time, to allow the child extended time with each parent during school breaks and the parents' personal vacation times. As vacation time is not always easily predicted, stipulations can be included to specify the length of the vacation periods and how much advance notice should be given. You may include whether or not visitation with the other parent, if feasible, shall occur during an extended vacation (such as a month in the summer). You may also include stipulations for removing the child from the state or country.

The key to a successful child visitation schedule is to work with the other parent while considering you child's best interests. Examining the schedules and availability of the parents and making the child visitation schedule accordingly should allow you to provide you child with the optimal amount of time with each parent.


The top ten cities in South Dakota (by population, US Census Bureau, 2008) are: Sioux Falls, Rapid City, Aberdeen, Watertown, Brookings, Pierre, Mitchell, Yankton, Huron, Vermillion.

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