Can a Parent Move a Child Out of South Carolina Without Permission?

As family law attorneys in Charleston, we deal with cases involving a parent moving a child out of South Carolina without the other parent’s permission. Some of these cases can be heartbreaking, especially when the other parent relocates the child and tries to hide from the other parent. In this article, we will explain South Carolina’s laws regarding child relocation within South Carolina, relocating a child away from South Carolina, what constitutes parental kidnapping in S.C., and what can be done if the other parent removes your child from this state.

Can a Parent Move a Child Within South Carolina Without Permission?

Yes, a parent may move a child within our state. S.C. Code § 63-3-530 (30) provides that the family court “may not issue an order which prohibits a custodial parent from moving his residence to a location within the State unless the court finds a compelling reason or unless the parties have agreed to such a prohibition . . . .”

Can a Parent Take a Child Out of South Carolina Without Permission?

The short answer is “maybe.” In South Carolina, our appellate courts have stated that cases involving the relocation of a custodial parent are some “of the most challenging problems our family courts encounter.” Under our laws, the effect that relocation has on a child is “highly fact-specific” which means that no two cases are exactly alike. Ultimately, the family court must determine whether the child’s move from South Carolina is in the child’s best interest. In deciding what is in the child’s best interests, under the case of Latimer vs. Farmer, the family court considers various factors such as:

  • Each parent’s reasons for seeking or opposing the move,
  • The quality of the relationships between the child and the custodial and noncustodial parents,
  • The impact of the move on the quality of the child’s future contact with the noncustodial parent,
  • The degree to which the custodial parent’s and child’s life may be enhanced economically, emotionally, and educationally by the move and is not the result of a whim on the part of the custodial parent;
  • The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the noncustodial parent and child through suitable visitation arrangements;
  • The availability of realistic substitute visitation arrangements that will adequately foster an ongoing relationship between the child and the noncustodial parent.
  • The extent to which visitation rights have been allowed and exercised;
  • Whether the moving parent, once out of the jurisdiction of South Carolina, will be likely to comply with any substitute visitation arrangements;
  • Whether the cost of transportation is financially affordable by one or both parties; and
  • Whether the move is in the best interests of the child.

South Carolina family courts take the factors listed above into account to assess the full context of a proposed move, always prioritizing the child’s best interests. For example, in the Latimer case, the primary caregiver wanted to relocate for a superior job opportunity, which would also give him more quality time with the child and proximity to the child’s grandparents. The court approved this move.

Can I Be Charged with Kidnapping for Removing My Child From South Carolina Without Permission?

The short answer is “maybe,” depending on the circumstances. S.C. Code § 16-17-495 is the criminal statute that deals with parental kidnapping in South Carolina. Under this statute, here are two circumstances when a parent may be guilty of parental kidnapping:

  1. If the other parent has been awarded custody by a family court, and you remove your child from South Carolina for the purpose of concealing the child, or circumventing or avoiding the custody order or statute.”
  2. When the other parent has filed and served a custody lawsuit in family court, and you remove your child from South Carolina “with the intent to circumvent or avoid the custody proceeding . . . .”  If a parent removes the child for more than 72 hours without notice, then the law provides that it is permissible to infer that a person keeping a child outside South Carolina to violate the law.

If a person violates S.C. Code § 16-17-495, then the person may be guilty of a felony and face fines and up to five years in jail. If the parent takes the child by physical violence or the threat of physical violence, then the person may face up to ten years in jail. If the person returns the child to South Carolina within three days after a custody petition has been filed in family court, then the person may be guilty of a misdemeanor and face fines and up to three years in jail. years, or both. Whether the parent is charged with a felony or a misdemeanor, the parent also may be ordered to pay travel expenses and attorney’s fees to the other parent or law enforcement.

What Can I Do if My Child is Removed from South Carolina by the Other Parent?

If the other parent has taken your child from South Carolina, it’s essential to stay calm, think rationally, and persistently pursue all available avenues for the safe return of your child. Here are several steps you might consider:

  • Contact Law Enforcement: If the removal was against a court order 72 hours after you have filed a served a custody lawsuit, or you believe your child may be in immediate danger, contact your local police or sheriff’s department.
  • File for an Emergency Custody Order: If there’s immediate danger or harm to the child, an attorney can help you petition the family court for an emergency custody or restraining order which can demand the immediate return of the child.
  • Contact the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC): NCMEC can assist law enforcement with the search for your missing child. Their hotline is 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).
  • Contact the U.S. Department of State: If you suspect your child has been taken internationally, you might want to inform the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues. They can assist with international parental child abduction cases.

Charleston Family Lawyers for Child Relocation Cases

If your child has been removed from South Carolina by the other parent or you are considering removing your child from this state, it is important to speak with a family court lawyer about your options. If you need assistance regarding relocation issues, we are here to help – please contact us for a consultation.