South Carolina law encourages parents to work out custody arrangements themselves without bringing the issue to court. If they cannot come to an agreement, courts in South Carolina make custody decisions based on what is in the "best interest" of the child.

In the past, South Carolina favored sole custody. However, the state’s custody laws changed in 2012, and courts must consider all forms of custody (including joint or shared custody).

What Is a Parenting Plan?

Under South Carolina law, divorcing parents must give the court a proposed parenting plan before their divorce is finalized. A parenting plan or a placement agreement is a detailed, written agreement that sets out how they will share legal and physical custody of their children. If parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, they may have to participate in mediation (a dispute resolution process) before the court gets involved. (They must also submit separate, proposed plans to the court.)

What Does the Court Consider in Assigning Custody?

If the parents cannot agree on custody, the court will award custody based on the child’s best interests. South Carolina courts balance a series of factors when determining the best interest of a child. These factors include:

  • The parent’s ability to be actively involved in the child’s life,
  • The parent’s capacity to parent and emotional disposition,
  • The emotional and developmental needs of the child,
  • The child’s need for stability,
  • The physical and mental health of the parent,
  • The history of contact between the parents and the child,
  • The importance of sibling and other familial relationships,
  • How close the parents live to each other,
  • A child’s cultural or religious background,
  • Evidence of child abuse or spousal abuse,
  • The parents’ wishes, and
  • The child’s reasonable preference (if age appropriate).

A parent’s gender is not considered as a factor. Sometimes, a guardian ad litem will be assigned to advocate for the child in a custody dispute.

What Happens When the Court Has Made a Decision?

Once the parenting plan and divorce order are signed, they are filed with the court clerk. Both parents are then bound by the approved parenting plan and the court must approve any modification of the plan.  

Should I Contact a South Carolina Lawyer Regarding my Custody Issues?

Child custody disputes can be emotionally charged and require a detailed understanding of the law. If you have concerns about custody and parenting time, it is important that you speak with an experienced lawyer. A South Carolina child custody lawyer will help advocate for you and your child and work to secure the best possible parenting arrangement for your family.