South Carolina child custody laws can be overwhelming to comprehend when you’re going through a stressful situation or big life event such as a divorce or other action. At Harvey and Battey, our trusted, experienced team of attorneys is here to help you understand the ins and outs of South Carolina child custody laws and help you reach a positive resolution for you and your family. In this blog, we’ll discuss the different types of custody, the laws and rights you should be aware of and the importance of seeking the help of a trusted attorney with deep experience in family law.

Two Main Types of Child Custody in South Carolina

Understanding the main types of child custody in South Carolina is essential to your child custody and support case. The two main types of child custody in South Carolina are joint custody and sole custody. 

Joint Custody

In South Carolina, when joint custody is assigned, typically one parent is granted primary physical placement, while the other parent is granted extensive visitation rights. The current state of the law of joint custody is not well defined. The specifics of the arrangement, therefore, must be described in the custody order or custody agreement, on a case by case basis. Additionally, when assigned joint custody, both parents typically have decision-making power in major parental decisions; however, one parent, sometimes referred to as the “primary”, is designated as the ultimate decision maker in the event the parents do not agree on a particular decision. 

Sole Custody

In South Carolina, parents who are granted sole custody have both physical and legal custody of the child. This means the physical placement and decision-making power in major parental decisions is assigned to one parent, with the other often receiving visitation rights.

Now that we’ve discussed the two main types of custody, we’ll review some of the most commonly asked questions about South Carolina child custody laws to help you better understand how you and your child could be impacted.

Is South Carolina a 50/50 Custody State?

Although some states assign parents shared custody, also referred to as 50/50 custody, this is rarely the case in South Carolina, unless the parents agree to this arrangement. The courts often believe alternating weeks or months between parents is not in the best interest of the child. There are some cases, typically when parents live within the same school zone, that a judge may deem shared custody appropriate for a family. 

How is it Determined Who Gets Custody of a Child in South Carolina?

South Carolina child custody laws do not abide by the “Tender Years Doctrine,” which means courts do not award the mother custody of the child without determining this is in the best interest of the child. So, what is taken into consideration? 

In general, temperament and developmental needs are considered. This includes the child’s age, cultural, and spiritual needs, and preferences. It is up to the court to determine what weight to give the child’s preference in these situations, based on maturity and other factors. The actions of each parent are also considered. These include, but are not limited to, encouraging a relationship with both parents, providing a stable environment, and being actively involved in the child’s life. There is a presumption that the primary caretaker will be awarded custody, but the courts tend to treat this as one of the factors rather than a bright line rule.

This is not an exhaustive list of what’s considered during a custody case. Further details and factors should be discussed with a trusted attorney. 

Understanding Child Custody for Unmarried Parents

South Carolina custody laws automatically grant sole custody of a child to the mother when a child is born to unmarried parents. In this situation, fathers can petition the court for custody once paternity of the child is legally acknowledged or adjudicated.

What Deems a Parent Unfit in South Carolina?

A parent may be deemed unfit if they are:

  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Unable to function socially
  • Not actively seeking treatment for mental issues
  • Unwilling to cooperate or compromise with the other parent
  • Being abusive to the other parent
  • Unable to respond their child’s needs
  • Unable to set appropriate limits
  • Unable to care for the child

Other factors may be taken into consideration, but details should be discussed with an experienced attorney. 

Which Parent is Expected to Pay Child Support in a Joint Custody Agreement?

In a joint custody arrangement, one parent may be required to pay child support. However, it is typically the non-custodial parent who makes child support payments. When custody is split evenly, or as close to joint custody as possible in South Carolina, the parent with the higher salary will pay child support to ensure the same level of financial support is provided in both homes. 

Do I Need a Lawyer to File for Custody in South Carolina?

Although a parent is not required to have an attorney represent them in a child custody action, there are times it’s best to consult or obtain the services of a family law attorney with extensive experience in custody agreements. These situations include when:

  • The other parent is working with an attorney
  • The other parent lives in a different state
  • You’re worried for the safety of your child

While these are specific situations where the knowledge and experience of a custody attorney is necessary, hiring a family law attorney for any custody case has its benefits. An attorney with extensive experience in family law proceedings can not only provide peace of mind but also help make the process as smooth as possible for all involved. 

As with families, each custody case is unique. Speaking with an attorney who is experienced in child custody arrangements can help you consider the many factors you need to be aware of when filing for custody, as well as helping you understand your rights and responsibilities and the rights of your child. At Harvey and Battey, you can rest assured that your concerns will be handled with compassion and in the strictest confidence by Sam Scoville and his staff. Our trusted law firm has been handling child custody and support matters for clients throughout the Lowcountry area since 1922. We are dedicated to protecting your interests and the well-being of your child.

Harvey and Battey is your full service law firm in Beaufort, SC with over 100 years of experience and a strong reputation. With Harvey and Battey, you get the personalized attention of a small firm combined with the knowledge and resources of a large firm. Our attorneys have years of experience in many practice areas such as family law, real estate, estate planning, personal injury, and more. Contact us today to schedule your consultation regarding your specific circumstances and learn how we can be your law firm for life.