SC: Child Custody

What Is Visitation & Custody?

Visitation and custody are terms used to describe physical custody schedules that reflect where the child(ren) live day-to-day. Legal custody describes the ability to make decisions about your child(ren)’s lifestyle(s). Legal custody can be joint, or sole, depending on the circumstances of the case, but we find that sole legal custody to one parent over the other is less favored. The court can rule that a parent has a reduced role in the decision-making process for their child(ren) if that is clearly necessary to protect the child(ren).  Situations where substance abuse or certain mental disorders are present can create challenges for the court to consider when determining who will be awarded legal decision-making for the child(ren).

A visitation or parenting schedule is a schedule outlining which parent is taking care of the child(ren) at any given time. There can be situations where one parent is clearly a better fit for the child(ren) or where one parent is completely unfit to care for child(ren), but courts are directed to look to the child(ren)’s needs, and generally, they want children to continue to have access to both of their parents.  For these reasons, legal representation in child custody litigation is critical.

There are several factors that judges will consider, such as:

  • The current schedule of the child(ren) and parents
  • Child(ren)’s medical and educational needs
  • Religious backgrounds of parent and child(ren)
  • Physical ability of each parent to provide child care
  • The age of each child
  • The relational bond each child has with either parent
  • Distance between each parents’ residence
  • The relationship the parents have with each other
  • Any history of domestic violence
  • Any substance abuse or serious mental health issues

Courts no longer operate with the presumption that the mother should be the best custodian in all cases. Judges are now to look at who has been the primary caretaker and what each parent is able and willing to do to care for the child(ren). Child custody decisions are very focused on the facts. In order to understand how your individual situation might affect your custody case, you should meet with one of our South Carolina family law attorneys before proceeding to court or accepting any schedule your ex-spouse offers you.

Modification of Child Custody

After a judge makes an order regarding child custody, it can be challenging to change it. The circumstances that the court used to make the initial ruling may have changed. You must be able to demonstrate to the court that the change influences the well-being of your child(ren). A change alone is not enough; the change must be directly tied to the wellbeing of the child(ren), and it cannot be something that was present or contemplated at the time of the original determination.  Modifications are not focused on what the parents need to change based on their changed circumstances; they are focused on what the child(ren) need to have changed based on the changed circumstances.