According to the South Carolina State Bar Association, the Laws governing child custody can be found in Title 63 of the South Carolina Children’s Code. Child custody actions can be filed independently or as part of a divorce action in South Carolina. The standard applied in all custody actions stems from the best interests of the child.
The courts consider many factors in determining the best interests of a child including the physical, psychological, spiritual, educational, familial, emotional, and recreational aspects of the child’s life.
Additionally, the courts assess each parent’s character, fitness, and attitude as they impact the child; consider the child’s preference for custody, and weigh any domestic violence. A court cannot solely consider a parent’s past deployment or possible future deployment to determine the best interest of the child. However, a court can consider any significant impact past or future deployment has on the best interest of the child.
What are the Different Custody Orders the Court Can Order?
The South Carolina Courts can order many different types of custody arrangements. Typically, there are two types of custody arrangements: “joint custody” and “sole custody.” Joint custody means both parents have equal rights and responsibilities for major decisions concerning the child. Sole custody means one parent has the right and responsibility for major decisions concerning the child.
Moreover, parents must submit parenting plans to the court in custody proceedings reflecting the parental preferences. These may cover how much time the child will spend with each parent and which parent will make major decisions for the child, including the child’s education, medical and dental care, extracurricular activities, and religious training.
For instance, the most common parenting arrangement is where one parent serves as the primary caretaker of the child, and the other parent has visitation with the child. The primary caretaker cares for the child most days of the year, with the other parent having visitation every other weekend, on some holidays, and during some summer weeks. The parent having visitation almost always is mandated to pay child support to the parent who is serving as the primary caretaker.
Furthermore, many courts are now encouraging parents to use the Family Wizard website to schedule and track parenting time, share important information, and communicate effectively. When a custody action is initiated, the court will appoint a guardian ad litem.
Guardians ad litem are independent people who interview parents, children, family members, friends, school personnel, and other people involved in the family’s life, as well as collect evidence regarding the children, to make a recommendation to the court as to the best custody arrangement for the child. A custody action or a divorce action in which custody is contested must be filed by an attorney. When custody is contested, both parties to the action must participate in mediation.
How is Child Custody Defined in South Carolina?
Child custody is defined as the guardianship of a child, which encompasses both physical custody and legal custody. In a child custody dispute, the court may award joint custody to both parents or sole custody to a single parent as stated earlier.
Child custody cases in South Carolina can be either contested and resolved by court order or uncontested and defined in a child custody agreement between the parents.
A custody agreement or order will legally determine, at minimum, the following things:
- Where the child resides (physical custody);
- Who is involved in making parenting decisions (legal custody); and
- How the visitation schedule with non-custodial parents or relatives is arranged
What Factors are Considered in a Custody Case?
The marital laws on South Carolina resource state the following factors can be present in a custody case. Some custody orders may have either spouse or any other party to the following:
- Keep away from the home or the other or either spouse or children;
- Allow either spouse to visit the children at certain periods;
- To abstain from offensive conduct against the other spouse or either of them or the children;
- Bring attention to care for the home;
- To refrain from acts that would make the home not a proper place for any household member;
- To grant custody of the children, to either spouse or any other person or institution;
- Figure out the plan in how sums ordered paid for support shall be paid and applied;
- Require a person ordered to support another to give security by a written undertaking that he will pay the sums ordered by the court for such support
- Instead of requiring an undertaking, to suspend sentence and place on probation a person who has failed to support another as required by law, and to determine the conditions of such probation and mandate them to be observed;
- To revoke such suspension of sentence and probation, where circumstances warrant it;
- Discharge a respondent from probation;
- To release on probation before the expiration of the full term a person committed to jail for failure to obey an order of the court, where the court is satisfied that the best interest of the family and the community will be served thereby;
- To modify or vacate any order issued by the court;
- To order either before, during, or after a hearing a mental, physical and psychiatric examination as circumstances warrant;
- To exclude the public from the courtroom in a proper case;
- To send processes or any other mandates in any matter in which it has jurisdiction into any county of the State for service or execution in like manner and with the same force and effect as similar processes or mandates of the circuit courts, as provided by law;
- To compel the attendance of witnesses; and
- To enforce any order necessary, to determine any questions of support, custody, separation, or any other matter where the court has authority.
Moreover, keep in mind that South Carolina does not have a defined list of statutory factors for the court to consider when determining a custody order. This means that judges have significant flexibility on a case-by-case basis when determining a custody arrangement between two parents.
Do Judges In South Carolina Favor Joint Custody?
Judges in South Carolina are authorized to order either joint or single-parent custody of a child subject to a custody dispute. Courts in South Carolina do not have a presumption in favor of joint custody orders when evaluating child custody. The judge will evaluate the specifics of the custody dispute to award the custody arrangement that is in the best interests of the child.
However, it is not particularly encouraged that the parents cooperate to raise the child. In South Carolina, the court does consider the child’s reasonable wishes when determining which parent receives custody. The judge may consider the child’s age, maturity, and judgment in the process when determining the child’s custody preference.
When Do I Need to Contact the Lawyer?
If you reside in South Carolina and are experiencing issues with child custody it may be useful to reach out to a South Carolina child custody attorney to assist you with the process.
Child custody cases can involve various complex matters that will be emotionally draining. Therefore, receiving guidance from an experienced attorney will be meaningful for your situation.