What Are South Carolina’s Custody Laws?

As child custody lawyers in Charleston, South Carolina., we wrote this article to give parents a comprehensive understanding of child custody laws in South Carolina. In this article, we’ll explain the types of custody in South Carolina, the factors the family court considers when deciding custody, and how to convince the court should you should be awarded custody.

What Are The Types of Child Custody in South Carolina?

There are two types of child custody in South Carolina – sole and joint custody:

Sole Custody – Sole custody, which was favored under prior South Carolina case law, is when a parent “has temporary or permanent custody of a child and . . . the rights and responsibilities for major decisions concerning the child, including . . . education, medical and dental care, extracurricular activities, and religious training.”

Joint Custody – Joint custody means both parents have equal rights and responsibilities for major decisions concerning the child. South Carolina law requires that the family court “consider all custody options, including, but not limited to, joint custody” in contested custody cases or if either parent requests joint custody.

In the court’s final order concerning custody, the court must explain its reason for awarding, or not awarding, joint custody. In its reasoning, the court may consider the following factors:

  1. The temperament and developmental needs of the child;
  2. The capacity and the disposition of the parents to understand and meet the needs of the child;
  3. The preferences of each child;
  4. The wishes of the parents as to custody;
  5. The past and current interaction and relationship of the child with each parent, the child’s siblings, and any other person, including a grandparent, who may significantly affect the best interest of the child;
  6. The actions of each parent to encourage the continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent, as is appropriate, including compliance with court orders;
  7. The manipulation by or coercive behavior of the parents in an effort to involve the child in the parents’ dispute;
  8. Any effort by one parent to disparage the other parent in front of the child;
  9. The ability of each parent to be actively involved in the life of the child;
  10. The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community environments;
  11. The stability of the child’s existing and proposed residences;
  12. The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, except that a disability of a proposed custodial parent or the other parent, in and of itself, must not be determinative of custody unless the proposed custodial arrangement is not in the best interest of the child;
  13. The child’s cultural and spiritual background;
  14. Whether the child or a sibling of the child has been abused or neglected;
  15. Whether one parent has perpetrated domestic violence or child abuse or the effect on the child of the actions of an abuser if any domestic violence has occurred between the parents or between a parent and another individual or between the parent and the child;
  16. Whether one parent has relocated more than one hundred miles from the child’s primary residence in the past year unless the parent relocated for safety reasons; and
  17. Other factors as the court considers necessary

Regarding “other factors,” the court may consider the opinions of others such as social service agencies, doctors and other medical providers, psychologists, and psychiatrists to name a few. A family court judge is required to consider the children’s preference for custody. Contrary to popular belief, there is no specific age when a child may somehow decide where the child should live. The greater the child’s age, experience, maturity, and judgment, the more likely the child’s preference will have some impact on the family court’s decision. Years ago, the family court oftentimes gave mothers custody of their young children. This was known as the “Tender Years Doctrine.” In South Carolina, since 1995, the Tender Years Doctrine can no longer be considered in deciding child custody cases, and both mother and father are considered to be equally capable of caring for an infant or young child unless the court is shown otherwise. Regarding health, the family court may consider whether the child has any special needs and which parent is more able to meet those needs. Lastly, the court may consider the impact a parent’s gender may have, in relation to the child’s gender, on rearing the child.

How Can I Get Custody of My Children in South Carolina?

If you are trying to get custody of your child in South Carolina, you should know that the family court’s decision rests on what is in the “best interest of the child.” In determining who should have custody or whether the parents should share joint custody, the family court carefully scrutinizes each parent’s behaviors both before and after separation. Essentially, if you are seeking custody in South Carolina of your child or children, you must convince the family court of your strengths as a parent and, in some cases, the other parent’s weaknesses.

Parenting Strengths – Here are some of the factors the family court considers to be strengths regarding your parenting abilities:

  • Primary Caregiver – The family court will consider which parent has traditionally been the primary caregiver to the children.
  • Good Parenting Skills – Good parenting skills include consistency and fairness in discipline, teaching independence, establishing family routines such as meals and study times, setting good examples, teaching respect for other adults and authority, stressing the importance of education, showing affection, being involved with school and extracurricular activities, planning good nutrition, reading together, providing regular medical and dental care, and other skills.
  • Financial Resources – Greater financial ability to provide for the children can be a very important factor considered by the family court.
  • Religious Training – The family court may consider which parent supports and fosters a religious upbringing for the children.
  • Parents’ Time for the Children – The family court oftentimes considers which parent will have more time available to spend with the children.
  • Stable Home Environment – The family court will consider which parent provides a more stable and consistent home environment.
  • Extended Family – The family court may look with favor upon the availability of relatives to help care for the children unless it appears that the involvement of relatives is too much.

Parenting Weaknesses – Here are some of the factors the family court considers to be weaknesses regarding your parenting abilities:

  • Parent’s Unfitness – Some of the specific things that tend to show unfitness are drug and alcohol abuse; emotional and mental instability; and immoral conduct such as exposing the children to an adulterous relationship.
  • Parental Alienation – The family court will consider whether a parent is making attempts to damage the children’s relationships with the other parent. Such attempts typically include making negative comments to the children about the parent and interfering with the children’s ability to communicate with and to spend time with the other parent.
  • Domestic Violence – Under South Carolina law, a family court judge must consider evidence of domestic violence in deciding which parent should have custody.

At What Age Can a Child Refuse Visitation in SC?

Under South Carolina law,  the older and more mature the child may be, the more weight a family court judge will give to a child’s preferences regarding which parent they want to live with and how much time the child spends with the non-custodial parent. However, under our laws, even if a child does not want to visit with the other parent, the family court will hold parents accountable for following the court-ordered visitation schedule even if a child is refusing to visit with another parent. If your child is refusing to visit with the other parent, then please click to read our in-depth article on this issue.

What are Mothers’ Rights in South Carolina?

South Carolina’s custody laws do not differentiate between mothers and fathers. In other words, neither mothers nor fathers have more rights than the other parent nor do they have their own particular rights under our laws. Instead, South Carolina’s family courts consider the factors, that are listed above, when deciding issues of custody and visitation.

How to Get Custody of a Child Without Going to Court

If you are seeking custody of your child in South Carolina and you want that custody to be “official,” then there is simply no way to do that without going to family court. Specifically, absent a court order granting you custody, you would not have an official decision to fall back on if the other parent disagrees with you. That being said, if the parents can agree on which parent should have custody, then such an agreement will go a long way to reducing your legal fees in family court. For more information on how to reduce your legal fees in family court, please click here to read our in-depth article on this subject.

Where Can I Find S.C. Child Custody Forms?

The South Carolina judicial branch has many family court forms that you can find by clicking here. and selecting “Family Court” from the “Court Type” drop-down menu. There are over 180 forms to choose from although many of these forms may not be applicable to your needs. These forms are available online so that persons who do not have a lawyer can represent themselves in South Carolina’s family courts. However, as you might imagine, navigating the court system without a lawyer can be very challenging and could, potentially, lead to a bad outcome in your case.

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