May 28, 2000
Honorable John Bastian, Chairman
South Dakota Visitation Enforcement Task Force
P.O. Box 237
Belle Fourche, SD 57717-0237
Dear Judge Bastian,
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to the Visitation Enforcement Task Force on the importance of shared parenting, parenting plans, etc. at last Tuesday's meeting. I was impressed with the interest of the group to the public testimony and I hope that many of the task force members will take “to heart”, the concerns expressed and help to resolve these concerns.
I was disappointed that our organization was the only applicant that was not provided grant money for our initiative; however, I believe our message was heard. It is our hope that this task force will be the impetus for making significant changes in how families are addressed in the legal and court system within South Dakota. We will continue to convey our state-of-the-art, common sense approach to the preservation of families after divorce or separation in the future.
After observing the meeting of the Task Force last week, I would like to provide some feedback that may be useful to enhance the mission of the Visitation Task Force. I have listed these below:
It is my impression that there are no established, written guidelines for what should be funded and what should not be funded. I noted comments by several members telling applicants that they could not fund this or that? Then, members contradicted themselves by funding what members said they could not fund. In fairness to all applicants, it is my opinion that criteria should be developed and conveyed to all potential applicants before they apply.
It was mentioned that there were concerns over our proposal because we were considered an advocacy group. Perhaps we are, however, the Federal grant (see enclosed Act) was established to “support and facilitate Noncustodial parents' access to and visitation of their children”. I emphasize the word, Noncustodial. We advocate and facilitate Noncustodial parents' access to and visitation of their children. That is what the grant calls for and we admit, that is our primarily purpose.
With the exception of the Midland Dispute Resolution Center, most of the applicants were extensions of Women Shelters who, from what I understand, are very strong advocates in the State of South Dakota. I believe, it came across quite clear in the meeting that they are advocating for mothers and children (who are primarily custodial parents in this state). This was evidenced by the agency that played the recording of the custodial mother who had been allegedly abused by her former husband. Where were the supporting testimonies from Noncustodial mother and the fathers, who traditionally are Noncustodial parents? After all, this grant program is an initiative to increase Noncustodial parent access to their children.
I have participated in other federal grant pass-thru programs in Minnesota. From my point of view, it is unusual to provide an applicant with more grant money than they requested. This would put the Task Force in a position to explain why one applicant received more money than applied for when the other applicants did not receive more.
I am enclosing a copy of the Social Security Act, entitled, “Grants to States for Access and Visitation Programs. After listening to the comment regarding the use of tax payers money to fund our proposal, I would like to point out that the grants under this program enable States “to establish and administer programs to support and facilitate Noncustodial parents' access to and visitation of their children, by means of activities including mediation (both voluntary and mandatory), counseling, education, development of parenting plans, visitation enforcement, and development of guidelines for visitation and alternative custody arrangements”. Our proposal addressed many of these activities with the exception of visitation enforcement; yet, it appears that visitation enforcement and mediation assistance were the only activities funded by the task force. I think it would be good to convey that to potential applicants in the future.
It is my opinion if you are disbursing monies to support and facilitate Noncustodial parent's access to children, you would want to have some Noncustodial parents on the task force. I believe they could provide accurate insight to the needs of access between the Noncustodial parent and their children in the State of South Dakota.
I hope you consider my observations and convey them to the other members of the Task Force for discussion. I was pleased that Judge Zinter requested additional information on “Shared Parenting” and that an invitation was made by Judge Meierhenry to provide input on changing the current “Shared Parenting Guidelines”. We believe this is a step in the right direction to enhance the Noncustodial parents' access to and “parenting” of their children and to preserve families in the State of South Dakota.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my concerns.
Steve Mathis, President
The South Dakota Coalition for Shared Parenting