When a married couple decides to end their relationship, there are many things they must do in order to untie their life together, such as splitting property and assets and deciding who will remain in the family home if anyone. As a part of this divorce process, should the couple share children they need to create a parenting plan for the children and decide on the many different South Carolina child custody issues.
These issues include whether or not the couple will share custody of the children, if one parent will have sole custody, what the visitation arrangements will be, and who will make important decisions about the children’s upbringing including their health and education. Ideally, the couple is able to create this plan on their own, but in the event they cannot it will be created by a South Carolina family law court judge.
Deciding Child Custody in South Carolina
Judges in the South Carolina court system make decisions on South Carolina child custody based on the “welfare and best interests of the child,” and laws in this state advise judges that the best interests of the child involved in the case are the most important to uphold. Unlike many other states in the country, this state does not consider joint custody agreements to automatically be in the child’s best interests.
Joint custody agreements are presumed to be harmful to the child’s development in many cases – this is most often due to the fact that the parents remain angry and bitter to one another after the divorce is finalized. More often than not, this type of hostile environment does not work when the parents need to cooperate with one another and the child is exposed to their hostility.
A legal doctrine called the “tender years doctrine” was followed by South Carolina family courts for a period of time. This doctrine outlined that judges should generally prefer to grant custody of young children to the mother. This doctrine was abolished in 1994, and judges are instructed to not show preference to either parent based on the age of the child involved in the case.
When evaluating what is in the best interests of the child, the court takes a number of factors into consideration. Some of these factors include the parents’ fitness as parents, characteristics, attitudes, and character. Additionally, should one parent express that he or she does not want South Carolina child custody or shows a level of irresponsibility, that parent will likely be granted a visitation order but not awarded any level of custody.
In addition to evaluating this wide range of factors in order to make a final South Carolina child custody decision, judges in South Carolina are also instructed to look into these factors as well:
Judges often look at a child’s education record as a means to determine which parent should have custody. A child’s poor academic performance may indicate a home environment that is not supporting school success and may need to be changed. Conversely, a child doing well in school and involved in the community may indicate a positive and stable home environment, in which case the judge considers not changing the child’s current environment.
Should a child in a custody case have special needs, the judge needs to make additional considerations. Children with mental, physical, or educational needs often require more financial resources for support as well as more time than the average child. In these cases, the judge makes a strong consideration for granting child custody in South Carolina to the parent who has the time and resources to ensure the child is properly cared for and gets the support he or she needs.
Should the child or a family member have a psychological condition, this factor has significant weight on the judge’s decision. In most cases, the court is hesitant to give custody to parents who have shown to have a significant psychological condition or psychological problems simply due to their mental state – this may deprive the child of necessary attention and support.
Although spiritual development is a factor courts must consider, the state of South Carolina does not define spirituality. Parents often have different ideas about which spiritual or religious values to impart to their child, and this can lead to emotional and often difficult conflicts. Should there be a case where parents do not agree on the child’s spiritual upbringing, the judge prefers to grant custody to one parent and allow that parent to make decisions.
This approach often helps to minimize disputes about spiritual upbringing as well as confusion for the child. Although one parent is tasked with making these decisions, it does not mean that the other parent is prohibited in any way from providing an alternative spiritual or religious education while the child is visiting.
The home environment is a very important consideration for judges to make. The court takes a close look at the home environment that is in the best interests of the child and evaluates each parent’s home. The court looks to determine if the home environment will provide the support the child needs as well as stability and continuity. The judge also takes a look at who else is living in the home – should it be determined that a new partner for one of the parents is not a good influence on the child, custody may be given to the other parent.
Custody and Relocation in South Carolina
In cases where one parent has sole custody and the other parent has visitation, the issues of relocation become much more difficult. Should the parent with sole custody wish to move, whether it be for a new job, wanting to be closer to family, or for better educational opportunities for the child, that parent often has to go through the court system to get approval. When the parent with visitation is faced with difficulty seeing the child during scheduled visits or the possibility of having less time, the case to decide relocation can be hostile.
The parent wishing to relocate carries the burden of proof when it comes to convincing the judge that the relocation is necessary. Relocation can often cause many disruptions for children, especially if they are moving into a new school district and away from familiar friends and family. Since this disrupts the child’s stability, the bar for proving necessity is set very high, especially when the possibility of changing the custody agreement is included as well.
Some of the factors the judge needs to consider when making this decision include:
- Reason for the relocation
- Why the relocation is being protested by the other parent
- What benefits the child will see from the relocation
- If the relocation will result in changes to the current child custody agreement