The most difficult issue you may face when ending a marriage is the custody of your child (or children). Child custody decisions made during a divorce will carry long-term consequences.
A lawyer can play a vital role in protecting both your rights as a parent and the welfare of your child. In particular, the attorney can help you to work with your spouse on reaching a peaceful resolution, or parenting plan. Your attorney can also serve as your advocate in court if an agreement is not possible.
To learn more, contact Harrison White, P.C. We not only have extensive experience in this area of family law, but we also approach each child custody case with the sensitivity it deserves.
Types of Child Custody in South Carolina
Custody of child generally refers to where the child lives (physical custody) and the rights and duties to make major decisions concerning the child’s welfare (legal custody).
As you seek custody of your child during the divorce process, it will be important to determine which type of custody you are seeking. The main types are:
- True joint custody means both parents have equal rights and responsibilities for major decisions concerning the child, including the child’s education, medical and dental care, extracurricular activities, and religious training; however, a judge may designate one parent to have sole authority to make specific, identified decisions while both parents retain equal rights and responsibilities for all other decisions.
- Sole custody means a person, including, but not limited to, a parent who has temporary or permanent custody of a child and, unless otherwise provided for by court order, the rights and responsibilities for major decisions concerning the child, including the child’s education, medical and dental care, extracurricular activities, and religious training.
Developing a Parenting Plan
In many cases, you can develop a parenting plan with the child’s other parent that covers where the child will live, visitation rights and who will have decision-making authority.
If you cannot agree, you will be required to participate in mediation. Also, the court will likely appoint a Guardian Ad Litem to represent the interests of your child and conduct an independent investigation.
If an agreement can be reached, you will present it to a Family Court judge for approval, and the judge will enter a final custody order upon his or her approval. Otherwise, the matter will proceed to trial and the Family Court judge will make all decisions as to custody and collateral issues such as visitation, child support and/or restraining order provisions.
Determining Child Custody in Family Court
In the event of a contested child custody case, remember:
- South Carolina law does not give preference to mothers or fathers when determining custody.
- The court’s determination will be based entirely on what is in “the best interest of the child.”
Some factors are:
- The child’s preferences, temperament and developmental needs dependent upon the age and maturity of the child (but this factor is hardly controlling)
- Each parent’s wishes, capacity and ability to understand and meet the child’s needs.
- The history of the relationship between the child and each parent.
- Whether the parent disparages the other parent or encourages a continuing relationship.
- The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school and community environments.
- The stability of the child’s existing and proposed residences.
- The mental and physical health of all individuals involved.
- The child’s cultural and spiritual background.
- Whether the child or a sibling of the child has been abused or neglected or whether one parent has perpetuated domestic violence.
- Whether one parent has relocated more than 100 miles from the child’s primary residence in the past year (unless the move was needed for safety reasons.)