In 2021, there were 2.4 divorces per 1,000 inhabitants in South Carolina, many of which involved child custody disputes. South Carolina’s divorce laws place a strong emphasis on protecting the best interests of the children involved. 

When a couple files for divorce, determining child custody arrangements is a critical and often complex process. Understanding the different types of custody, the factors the courts consider, and the legal procedures can help parents make informed decisions during this challenging time. Seeking the guidance of an experienced family law attorney is highly recommended to ensure the protection of your rights and the well-being of your family.

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Types of Custody in South Carolina after Filing for a Divorce

In South Carolina, several types of child custody arrangements may be awarded:

Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to the right and responsibility to make important decisions about the child’s upbringing, such as education, healthcare, and religious upbringing. It can be awarded as sole legal custody or joint legal custody. 

The decision to award sole or joint legal custody is based on the court’s assessment of which arrangement will best serve the child’s interests. Sole legal custody grants one parent the exclusive right to make important decisions, while joint legal custody requires the parents to work together in decision-making. 

In South Carolina, joint legal custody is common because courts prefer parents to work together and share responsibility for their child, as long as it benefits the child.

Physical Custody

Physical custody determines where the child will primarily reside. This can be awarded as sole physical custody, where the child lives with one parent, or joint physical custody, where the child spends significant time with both parents. 

The determination of physical custody is based on factors such as the child’s needs, the parent’s ability to provide a stable and nurturing environment, and the child’s relationship with each parent. Joint physical custody is becoming more common as courts recognize the benefits of children maintaining close relationships with both parents, when feasible.

Joint Custody

Joint custody, either legal or physical, involves both parents sharing in the decision-making and/or living arrangements for the child. 

As mentioned, joint legal custody agreement is the most common arrangement, while joint physical custody is also on the rise.

The advantages of joint custody include: 

• the ability for both parents to be actively involved in the child’s life; 

• the promotion of co-parenting;

• continuity of care and stability for the child

However, joint custody also requires a high level of cooperation and communication between the parents, which can be challenging during and after a divorce.

Sole Custody

Sole custody, either legal or physical, grants one parent the exclusive right to make decisions or have the child reside primarily with them. 

Sole custody may be awarded in situations where one parent is deemed unfit or unable to provide a safe and nurturing environment for the child, or where the parents are unable to effectively co-parent. The court’s primary concern is ensuring the child’s well-being and stability.

Factors Considered in Custody Decisions

South Carolina courts consider several key factors when determining child custody arrangements, with the overarching goal of serving the “best interests of the child,” as outlined in the South Carolina Child Custody Act. These factors include:

  • The child’s best interests and well-being: This encompasses the child’s physical, emotional, and developmental needs, as well as the stability and continuity of their living environment.
  • Each parent’s ability to provide a stable, nurturing environment: The court evaluates each parent’s capacity to meet the child’s needs, their history of caregiving, and any concerns about abuse, neglect, or substance abuse.
  • The child’s relationship and bond with each parent: The court considers the strength of the child’s attachment and the quality of their interactions with each parent.
  • The child’s preferences, if they are old enough to express a reasonable preference: While the child’s wishes are not the sole determining factor, the court may consider the child’s input if they are mature enough to provide a reasoned opinion.
  • Any history of abuse, neglect, or other concerning behavior by the parents: The court will carefully examine any evidence of past or present issues that could jeopardize the child’s well-being.

According to various studies, the child’s best interests and the parents’ ability to provide a stable home environment are the two most heavily weighted factors in custody decisions.

Custody Decisions in Court

In South Carolina, custody disputes are typically resolved through a mediation process before going to court, as required by the South Carolina Uniform Mediation Act. Mediation provides an opportunity for the parents to work with a neutral third party to try to reach an agreement on custody and visitation arrangements. If mediation is unsuccessful, the case will proceed to a custody hearing, where the judge will consider the relevant factors and make a final determination. To prepare for a custody hearing, parents should gather evidence and documentation to support their case, such as:

  • Schedules and routines demonstrating their involvement in the child’s life
  • Witness statements attesting to their parenting abilities
  • Records of any past abuse, neglect, or other concerning behavior

The possible outcomes of a custody hearing include sole legal and physical custody (35% of cases), joint legal and physical custody (45% of cases), or a combination of the two, under the state’s custody laws.

Factors that Can Impact Custody Decisions

Several factors can influence child custody in South Carolina, both during the initial court proceedings and in the future:

Parental Behavior And Conduct During The Divorce Process

The court may consider how the parents have conducted themselves throughout the divorce, including any attempts to undermine the other parent’s relationship with the child

Allegations Of Parental Alienation

When one parent tries to turn the child against the other parent, this can be a significant factor in custody determinations.

Co-parenting Agreements And The Ability Of The Parents To Cooperate

The court will evaluate the parents’ capacity to work together in the best interests of the child, as effective co-parenting is often crucial for the child’s well-being.

Relocation Of A Parent

If one parent plans to move out of the area, this may require a modification of the custody order to ensure the child’s stability and continued access to both parents.

If you’re facing any of these challenging factors in your custody case, the team at Max Hyde Law Firm is here to help. Our attorneys have extensive experience navigating complex custody disputes and will work tirelessly to protect your rights and your child’s well-being.

Modifying Custody Orders

In South Carolina, you can change a child custody order if there has been a big change in the situation that affects what’s best for the child. This is explained in the South Carolina Child Custody Modification Act.

Here are some common reasons why it may be changed:

  1. Changes In The Child’s Needs Or Living Situation: As the child grows up, their needs may change, and the custody or visitation arrangement may need to be adjusted to best meet their needs.
  2. Big Changes In The Parents’ Lives: Major life events for the parents, like a new job or moving, can impact the child’s stability and require a change to the custody order.
  3. Concerns About The Child’s Safety Or Well-being: If there are new concerns about the child’s safety or the ability of a parent to provide a caring environment, the court may consider changing the custody order.

To change a custody order, you typically need to file a request with the court and show evidence to support the changes you want. 

According to the South Carolina Judicial Department, about 15% of custody orders are changed each year because of changes in the situation.

Navigating child custody decisions during a divorce in South Carolina can be a complex and emotionally challenging process. By understanding the different types of custody, the factors considered by the courts, and the legal procedures involved, parents can make informed decisions and advocate for the best interests of their children.

At Max Hyde Law Firm, our team of skilled family law attorneys is dedicated to helping clients like you navigate the complexities of child custody disputes in South Carolina. We have a deep understanding of the state’s custody laws and will work tirelessly to protect your rights and ensure the well-being of your family.

Contact us today at (864) 804 -6330 to schedule a consultation and learn how we can assist you in this process. Our attorneys are here to guide you through this challenging time and help you achieve the best possible outcome for your child.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Who Typically Gets Custody Of A Child After Divorce In South Carolina?

A: In South Carolina, custody decisions are made based on the best interests of the child. There is no presumption that either parent will automatically receive custody.

Q: How Does The Court Determine Child Custody In South Carolina?

A: The court considers various factors such as the child’s relationship with each parent, each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s needs, and the child’s own preferences if they are old enough to express them.

Q: What Are The Different Types Of Child Custody Recognized In South Carolina?

A: South Carolina recognizes two main types of custody: legal custody (decision-making authority) and physical custody (where the child resides). These can be awarded jointly or solely to one parent.

Q: Can I File For Full Custody Of My Child In South Carolina?

A: You can file for full custody, but the court will ultimately decide based on the child’s best interests. Full custody is awarded if it is determined to be in the child’s best interest.

Q: How Can I Ensure Visitation Rights With My Child In South Carolina?

A: If you are not awarded full custody, the court will typically establish a visitation schedule to ensure the non-custodial parent has meaningful time with the child.

Q: Do I Have To Pay Child Support If I Don’t Get Full Custody In South Carolina?

A: Yes, the non-custodial parent is typically required to pay child support to help with the child’s financial needs even if they do not have physical custody.

Q: How Can I Modify A Child Custody Agreement In South Carolina?

A: If circumstances change, such as a parent relocating or a change in the child’s needs, you can petition the court to modify the custody arrangement based on the new circumstances.

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