Understanding the Custody Process in South Carolina
To understand child custody in South Carolina, you have to start thinking like a judge.
Every year, judges see thousands of divorcing parents in their courtrooms, arguing over who should have custody of the children. In addition, fathers who never married their childrens mothers may also go to court to seek custody, as custody remains solely with the unwed mother unless a judge rules otherwise.
Ideally, parents would work out a custody arrangement between themselves. But when they cannot, they will end up in court, and a judge will make the decision for them, A judges ruling on custody in South Carolina is binding and can only be altered when the parents return to court and demonstrate how there have been substantial changes in the childrens and parents lives that warrant a change in custody.
Child Custody in South Carolina
Either parent can file a custody case with the family court in South Carolina if both parents live in the state. If a parent has recently moved to South Carolina, the child in question must have lived in South Carolina for six months before a custody case regarding that child can be filed there.
Under South Carolina custody law, parents do not have to prove the other parent unfit in order to receive custody. The law does require, however, that judges place a priority on the best interest of the child.
Many Factors Go Into Deciding Custody
How do judges determine what is in the best interest of a child? They take into consideration many factors that may influence a childs life. When looking at the parents, judges examine:
- Their age and health
- Their income and education
- Their parenting style and religion
- Their employment and work schedule
- Whether there is any evidence of domestic violence, neglect, or drug/alcohol abuse
- Whether they have live-in romantic relationships
When looking at the needs of the children, judges consider:
- Their age
- Their gender
- Their relationship with each parent
- Their adjustment to home, school, and the community where they live
- Their physical and mental health
To gather this information, the court may employ the services of a separate lawyer called a guardian ad litem, who will represent the child - and only the child - in court. The guardian ad litem will look into the above issues by interviewing the child, the parents, and even other people in the familys life and report back to the court.
Children May Get a Say
South Carolina custody law does allow children to have input on which parent they want to live with. However, the judge must find that they have the "appropriate level of maturity," according to a brochure about divorce and custody issues published by the South Carolina Bar Association, a professional group for attorneys. There is no definite age given for maturity.
Even if judges do allow a child to give an opinion, that opinion is not the final word but one of many factors a South Carolina judge will consider in deciding custody.
Restrictions Placed on Custody Arrangements
In deciding custody arrangements, judges may want to curtail various parental behavior done in the presence of the children. To do this, the judges may issue various restraining orders. Such orders may prevent the parents from:
- Exposing children to a parents new lover
- Speaking badly about the other parent in the presence of the child
- Using alcohol, drugs, and even cigarettes in the presence of the child
- Exposing them to inappropriate entertainment
- Using vulgar or profane language
- Inflicting corporal punishment (spanking)