Putting Your Children First | Experienced Legal Help for Custody Issues
Child Custody in South Carolina
One of the biggest challenges when parents divorce is determining a custody and visitation schedule that works for them and their children. In South Carolina, it is no longer the default for the courts to automatically award a mother primary or sole custody of minor children and visitation rights to their father. Instead, the courts encourage the parents to agree on a custody plan that serves each child’s best interests.
Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody
Legal custody refers to which parent has the authority to make major life decisions for a minor child, including decisions about schooling, religion, medical care, diet, and other lifestyle choices. Physical custody determines where the child lives and spends their time.
South Carolina Family Courts usually award legal custody jointly, giving both parents a say in decision-making unless there are questions about an individual’s parental fitness. One parent will usually be awarded “primary legal custody,” with the agreement that they will consider and respect the other parent’s side of any disagreement before making the final decision.
In rare cases, the courts may award physical custody to another individual, such as a grandparent who has been a “de facto” guardian to a child. This can occur in cases where one or both parents are incarcerated, deceased, or otherwise unable to physically care for the child.
Determining a Workable Custody Schedule
In South Carolina, non-custodial parents are entitled to at least a minimum amount of visitation (also called “parenting time”) unless their parental rights have been terminated or special circumstances exist. The law does not specify how much time meets this standard; instead, the Family Court determines this on a case-by-case basis.
Some schedules may include a child spending alternating weeks at each parent’s home, or they may split time during each week and alternate weekends, for example. This type of arrangement works best for spouses who live in close proximity and are able to make decisions amicably.
Another common visitation schedule is one visit per week on weekdays and overnight visits every other weekend for the non-custodial parent. The non-custodial parent typically has the right to visitation on some holidays (often alternating by year) and a longer period during the summer school vacation or other school breaks.
The Court has the discretion to limit a non-custodial parent’s visitation rights if they are or have been abusive towards the child or other household members. They may be restricted to only supervised visitation, prohibited from keeping their child overnight or completely denied visitation.
South Carolina Family Courts encourage parents to work out a visitation schedule and parenting plan that works for them and serves the best interest of their child or children. Even if it isn’t a typical arrangement, a Family Court will likely approve a schedule that both parents agree to as long as it does not appear detrimental for the child. An experienced family attorney can help you find creative solutions that work for your family and negotiate an agreement with your spouse’s attorney.
Is It Possible to Change Custody or Visitation Agreements?
A custody order and visitation plan typically remain in effect until a child turns 18 and graduates high school or is emancipated. However, if there is a material change in circumstances, either party may petition the Court to approve a change to the agreement. The party requesting the change must show it is necessary to further the child’s best interests. As children get older, the Court may take their wishes into account when deciding whether a modification of custody or visitation is warranted.
Neither parent can prevent the other from visiting their child without a court order. The Court generally holds parents of young children responsible for cooperating with each other ensuring their children visit their non-custodial parent according to the custody and visitation orders.
Contact a Family Lawyer for Child Custody and Visitation Issues
If you are in a situation involving child visitation issues, wish to modify your current custody or visitation schedule, or believe you are being denied your visitation rights, you should contact an experienced family lawyer. The attorneys at Indigo Family Law understand the complexities of family relationships and the family courts and are dedicated to protecting your rights. Contact us today to discuss your situation.