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Types of Custody in South Carolina

Raising a child without being married to the other parent is a challenge. At Surasky Law Firm, our legal team has assisted men and women seek custody during a divorce or in a paternity suit. Many of our clients come to us asking for “full custody.” However, South Carolina doesn’t recognize that term. Instead, South Carolina has “sole” or “joint” custody.

Call our firm if you have questions. Parents can draft a custody agreement without a court’s involvement, but where agreement is impossible, there is no way to avoid a custody fight. Our family lawyer explains custody in greater depth below.

What is Custody?

In South Carolina, custody refers to the ability to make important decisions for a child related to:

· Medical and dental care. A parent must approve a child receiving a vaccine, having surgery, getting braces, or even attending routine appointments.

· Education. A parent will decide which school to enroll a child into. For example, you might decide to send your child to a private school or a public school in a different district.

· Religious upbringing. A parent with legal custody decides what religious training a child experiences, including whether a child can be baptized or confirmed into a religion.

· After-school activities. A parent with legal custody must give permission and sign a form to allow participation in sports, band, and field trips.

· Other important issues. A parent with custody will also decide critical issues such as whether your child can seek a driver’s permit and things of that sort.

In South Carolina, custody can be sole or joint:

Sole custody

With sole custody, only one parent gets to decide these issues. The other parent will not have a say. Or, more accurately, their opinion will not have any legal significance. A parent with sole legal custody can make decisions and not even have to tell the other parent.

This is a very rare form of custody. A judge might award sole custody if the other parent has neglected or abused a child, or if they are a danger to the child. Sometimes, one parent will have sole custody because the other parent has had no role in the child’s upbringing up to that point. A judge will only award sole custody if it is in the best interests of the child, which is why joint custody is much more common.

Joint Custody

Two parents can share joint custody. That means both parents have a say in the critical issues listed above. Of course, disagreements can arise, as you might imagine. One parent might want a child to attend a religious school, whereas the other wants to send the child to public school. What happens when they disagree?

Parents need some way to decide disputes. You might have to go to mediation to discuss an issue, or you might have to go to court to have a judge decide the issue.

Under Section 63-15-210, a judge can designate one parent to have the sole authority to make certain specific decisions. For example, a judge might award the mother the right to make medical decisions. However, the other parent still has equal rights and responsibilities for every other decision.

Even if you are seeking joint custody, you should work with a lawyer. After all, you don’t want the other parent to have sole authority over a lot of issues. Instead, make your voice heard.

Physical Custody/Parenting Time

South Carolina law does not use the term “physical custody.” However, the law says that parents must submit a parenting plan which allocates time spent with the children. This is called “parenting time,” not physical custody. But the ideas are the same.

When you have parenting time, the child is living with you. Many parents want as much time as possible with their children after divorce. As with custody, a judge will award parenting time based on the “best interests” of your children. This might mean that a child’s time is not divided 50/50 between the parents. In fact, a perfect split is difficult unless parents live close together.

Typically, both parents get substantial parenting time if they have been involved in the children’s lives, have been diligent parents, and are not a threat or danger to the children. If one parent is unfit, however, then they might only get supervised visitation with the children. That means another adult is present when you visit the children, such as a social worker. Over time, a parent could convince a judge to make visitation unsupervised.

Parenting plans often become stale or outdated. As your children grow, they will probably start to participate in outside activities, like band camp or sports. These activities can interfere with your parenting time, which means it is time to update it. However, updating the parenting plan doesn’t usually involve changing or modifying custody.

Split Custody

This refers to parents who have more than one child together. Custody is split between the parents, with one or more children living with one parent, and the remaining children with the other. For example, a couple might have had 4 children while married. When they divorce, the wife gets custody of the two daughters, and the husband has custody of the two sons. The parents will have parenting time with all the children, but they have custody over the two who live with them most of the time.

Judges usually avoid split custody and typically prefer that siblings stay together. However, we have seen it happen when a child is an older teen, and younger siblings spend most of the time with one parent.

Are You Seeking Custody? Call Us

Our law firm can help a parent try to negotiate custody and a parenting plan. We can even attend mediation with you. Despite your best efforts, you might end up in a custody hearing when you just can’t agree with the other parent. That’s okay, too, because the Surasky Law Firm can represent you in a custody hearing. Contact our firm to schedule a meeting with our experienced child custody lawyer.


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