Child Visitation in South Carolina
Determining a workable custody and visitation schedule for minor children is one of the biggest challenges for divorcing parents. South Carolina has abolished the traditional preference of automatically awarding a mother primary or sole custody of minor children and visitation rights to their father. Instead, the courts try to implement a custody plan that serves each child’s best interests. This may be an award of joint custody (where the parents share time with the child equally) or sole custody (where one parent has primary caregiving responsibilities). In rare cases, the courts may award custody to another individual, such as a grandparent who has been a “de facto” guardian to a child.
Minimum Visitation/Parenting Time
Regardless of who has legal or physical custody of a child, each parent is entitled to visitation (also called “parenting time”). South Carolina law ensures a non-custodial parent is allowed at least a minimum amount of visitation unless a court has terminated that parent’s parental rights or determined that visitation will not be in the best interests of the child.
However, the law does not specify a satisfactory amount of time to meet the necessary minimum standard. The Family Court determines this on a case-by-case basis. A common visitation schedule when one parent has sole custody is one weeknight visit and overnight visits every other weekend for the non-custodial parent. In this situation, the non-custodial parent also typically gets visitation for some holidays and a period during the summer school vacation. For parents with a history of domestic violence, however, the Court may allow only supervised visitation or prohibit overnight stays. In extreme circumstances, the Court may prohibit visitation to ensure the safety of the child or the other parent.
Parents are allowed (and encouraged) to work out a visitation schedule that works for them. The Family Court is likely to approve a schedule that both parents agree to as long as it does not appear detrimental to the child.
Is It Possible to Refuse Visitation?
Neither parent can prevent the other from visiting their child without a court order to that effect. Generally, parents of young children are responsible for ensuring their children visit their non-custodial parent according to the custody and visitation order. Although the non-custodial parent has the legal right to enforce visitation, it can be a difficult battle to force a teenager to consent to visits they do not want to attend.
Your custody order and visitation plan typically remain in effect until your child turns 18 and graduates high school or is emancipated. However, you can file a petition with the Court to modify the order if there is a material change in circumstances. You must show that a change in custody or visitation is necessary for the child’s best interests.
Do Grandparents or Other Non-Parents Have Visitation Rights?
South Carolina law generally defers to the rights of a child’s parents. However, the child’s best interest is more important than any other consideration. Many grandparents or other family members step in to care for a child when their parents cannot do so. In this case, state law authorizes a court to “grant visitation or custody of a child to the de facto custodian if it finds by clear and convincing evidence that the child’s natural parents are unfit or that other compelling circumstances exist.” If a grandparent has been a de facto custodian or qualifies as a “psychological parent,” the Family Court may grant them visitation or custodial rights.
The Family Court may grant visitation to a grandparent or other person over a fit parent’s objection if there are compelling circumstances. What constitutes “compelling circumstances” is determined on a case-by-case basis, but the Court will consider several factors, including:
- The needs and preferences of the child.
- The child’s relationship with siblings or other persons.
- The stability of residences.
- The mental and physical health of all involved.
- Past or present abuse and neglect.
Notably, the Court will not grant visitation rights to a grandparent over the objection of a fit parent solely because the child may benefit from having a relationship with the grandparent.
Grandparents may also be entitled to visitation rights if they meet the criteria in S.C. Code Ann. § 63-3-530(33) that allows visitation for a grandparent with a prior close relationship to a child when either or both parents are deceased, divorced, or living separate and apart in different habitats.
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.