If you and your spouse file an action for separate support and maintenance or marital dissolution, and you have children, the custody of your children will need to be addressed. There are two types of child custody in the state of South Carolina – joint custody and sole custody.
Joint custody means both parents have equal shared responsibilities and rights regarding major decisions about the child. Major decisions include the child’s education, health care, and dental care. Major decisions can also include things like extracurricular activities and religious training.
There are some situations where a judge will order joint custody on most issues, but designate one parent as having the sole authority to make decisions about an area of life that has been specifically identified. For example, separated or divorced parents may share all rights and responsibilities for a child in all matters, except when making medical decisions for the child. This practice, of assigning one parent sole responsibility for a single area of decision making, is typically dependent on the specific facts of a given family’s situation.
Sole custody can be awarded to one parent, or another person who has temporary or permanent custody of the child. With sole custody, the person with custody of the child bears all rights and responsibilities for making the major life decisions about the child’s life. This also includes the areas of health and dental care, education, religious training, and extracurricular activities.
What the Court Will Consider In Making Custody Determinations
In child custody determinations, the courts are charged with making a decision that is in the best interest of the child. This is based on the evidence presented to the court.
Determining Rights and Responsibilities
The court may consider the following in determining joint versus sole custody:
- The award of sole custody to one of the parents, coupled with appropriate parenting time for the non – custodial parent;
- The award of joint custody, in which case the court is required to take into consideration two sub factors:
- The needs of the child with respect to the residential arrangements of each parent;
- How, generally and specifically, communications and consultations between the two parents will occur. This consideration must include how the parents will communicate and come to decisions about the child’s health, the medical and dental care the child will receive, what extracurricular activities the child might participate in, the religious training the child may receive, and decisions about the child’s education.
- The approval of a parenting plan; and
- Any other custody arrangements the court determines to be in the best interests of the child.
Defining a “Parenting Plan”
When child custody is contested, each party is required to submit a parenting plan to the court. This plan includes parental preferences as they relate to child custody. It also includes a proposed allocation of the amount and type of parenting time each parent will spend with the child. Parenting plans are required to include a detailed outline proposing who will make relevant, major decisions regarding the child’s life.
Where parents are in agreement about child custody, they are permitted to file and submit a joint parenting plan for consideration by the court.
Determining the Best Interests of the Child
In determining the best interests of the child, the court may consider the following factors:
- The ability of either or both parents to recognize the needs of the child;
- The ability of either or both parents to meet the needs of the child in question;
- The developmental needs of the child;
- The temperament of the child;
- The wishes of the parents as to who should have custody of the child;
- The preferences of the child or children;
- The weight given to the preference expressed by the child will be based on the child’s age, maturity, experience, judgment, as well as the child’s ability to express a preference;
- The attitudes and actions of each parent to maintain the continuing and ongoing parent child relationship between the child and the other parent;
- The relationship of each child with each parent, including past and current interactions with each parent;
- Past or current interactions and relationships with siblings or other significant persons in the child’s life, including grandparents;
- Whether either parent has engaged in manipulative or coercive behavior to engage the child in the issues surrounding the divorce or separate support and maintenance proceedings;
- Whether either parent made efforts to disparage the other parent in the child’s presence;
- Whether one parent lives over 100 miles from the child’s primary residence (unless the relocation was done for reasons of personal safety);
- Each parent’s ability to actively be involved in the child’s life;
- Domestic violence perpetrated by one of the parents, either against the other parent, or against another individual;
- Child abuse perpetrated by one of the parents;
- The child’s environment, including community, school and home environments, and the child’s adjustment to these;
- Whether the child or a sibling of the child has been neglected or abused;
- The stability of the child’s current residence;
- The stability of the child’s proposed residence, if different than the existing residence;
- The child’s cultural background;
- The child’s spiritual background;
- The mental health of each parent;
- The physical health of each parent; and
- Any other factor the court deems is necessary for determining the issue of child custody.
What to Do If You Are Contemplating Filing an Action for Separate Support and Maintenance or Marital Dissolution and You Have Children
If you and your spouse make the difficult decision to terminate your marriage, or to separate, the custody of your children is an important consideration that will have a lasting impact on you, your spouse, and most importantly, on your children. Divorce is never easy. Having an experienced family law attorney, familiar with the South Carolina laws surrounding child custody, is critical. Contact the law office of the Elliott Frazier Law Firm, LLC to talk to the committed Greenville divorce law attorneys at our firm. We can help you with your separate support and maintenance or marital dissolution to ensure that your children’s best interests are represented in the proceedings.