We understand that child custody issues are often the most painful when parents divorce or are no longer together. Custody can also be one of the most complex issues. Parties are encouraged to work out their differences through mediation, and the family court generally will not disrupt an agreement regarding custody reached by the parents. If the South Carolina family court is asked to determine the custodial arrangement for the children, the judge will focus on what is in “the best interests of the child” to determine physical and legal custody. In applying this standard, family court judges consider many factors, including:
- Which parent has been the primary caretaker for the child(ren);
- The character and fitness of each parent;
- The ability of each parent to meet the needs of the child(ren) (psychological, medical, physical, environmental, spiritual, educational, emotional, recreational or other needs particular to the child(ren) at issue);
- The conduct of each parent which may impact the welfare of the children; and,
- The amount of time each parent has to spend with the child, and each parent’s ability to be actively involved in the child’s life.
There are two types of custody awarded by the family courts in South Carolina:
- Physical Custody – this refers to where the child will live, and at what times the child will live with either parent. A parent may have sole physical custody, or the parties may share physical custody according to an established schedule.
- Legal Custody – this refers to decision-making authority for important issues that impact a child’s welfare or upbringing, including education, healthcare, extracurricular activities, and religious training.
A parent has primary physical custody if they have the majority of overnights with the child(ren). A parent has primary legal custody if the parent has final decision-making authority regarding the important issues referenced above. Joint custody typically refers to a shared physical custody schedule and equal decision-making authority.
South Carolina requires all parties to a custody dispute to engage in mediation, in an effort to resolve their dispute. However, when parties are unsuccessful in resolving their dispute, the court will award custody and visitation. In making a custodial determination, the South Carolina family court usually awards one parent physical custody and grants the other parent visitation rights when the parents cannot reach an agreement on their own. Generally, visitation that is awarded by the court is every other weekend, with alternating holidays. South Carolina law does not favor mothers over fathers or fathers over mothers in child custody cases. As noted, in part, in S.C. Code § 63-5-30:
“The mother and father are the joint natural guardians of their minor children and are equally charged with the welfare and education of their minor child, and the care and management of the estates of their minor children; and the mother and father have equal power, rights, and duties, and neither parent has any right paramount to the right of the other concerning the custody of the minor or are the control of the services and earnings of the minor or any other matter affecting the minor.”
Whether your custody issues have reached the Court system or not, our family law attorneys are prepared to advocate for your custody rights, and for your children.