There is plenty of beauty in the Palmetto State. But every now and then even a great romance can turn ugly. If you and your former true love have children, you’ll need to figure out who they will live with, who’ll make the big decisions in their lives, and how all of that will be paid for. So here is an introduction to child custody and child support in South Carolina.
Types of Child Custody
In the case of a divorce or legal separation, either the parents or the courts will have to determine custody issues regarding shared minor children. There are two types of child custody in South Carolina. Legal custody refers to the legal right and responsibility to make decisions about health, education, and welfare for your child. A court could grant sole legal custody to you or your ex, but South Carolina courts currently prefer joint legal custody.
Physical custody refers to where your child resides most of the time. Parents should be aware that South Carolina courts generally believe that it is important for your child to have stability, rather than being shifted from place to place. Therefore, judges do not favor joint physical custody where your child resides with you half of the time and with your ex for the other half. However, South Carolina has abolished the “Tender Years Doctrine,” which favored awarding custody to the mother. Currently, the courts can’t give custodial preference based on the parent’s or the child’s gender.
Determining Custody Issues in South Carolina
South Carolina law requires parents to submit a proposed parenting plan, sorting out custody issues between you and your ex. A parenting plan generally includes:
- The type of custody each parent will have;
- A schedule of parenting time or child visitation;
- A statement assigning legal decision-making to either or both parents; and
- Other considerations for the court.
As long as the plan is in your child’s best interests, a court will generally accept it. If you and your ex cannot agree on an acceptable plan, however, a judge may develop one instead. The court is required to create a plan that is in your child’s best interests. In doing so, the court can consider any factors relevant to your child's physical and emotional well-being, including, but not limited to:
- The primary caregiver: There is a presumption in South Carolina that the parent who has been the primary caregiver of the child should be awarded primary physical custody;
- Your child’s wishes: A judge may take the child’s wishes into consideration, and weigh the child’s wishes, keeping in mind his or her age and maturity;
- Parental behavior: Any history of domestic violence, excessive use of alcohol, criminal convictions, parental kidnapping, or any behavior that endangered the child;
- Encourages a relationship with other parent: Which parent will best foster a relationship between the child and the other parent;
- Home Environment: Which parent offers the child the best stable home environment, including supervision, living conditions, other adults or siblings in the home, the neighborhood where the home is located, and continuation of the same school and friends; and/or
- Relationship with child: The love, affection and emotional ties between the parent and child.
Your child’s needs may change as he or she gets older and you might need to modify your parenting plan as your child grows. Your parenting plan can include methods for review and modification under certain circumstances, such as when your child reaches a certain age. If you and your ex cannot agree on modifications, the court will again consider your child’s best interests when deciding whether to change a parenting plan. For a court to change a child custody order, there usually must be a substantial change in your or your child’s circumstances, and the modification must be in your child’s best interests.
Establishing Child Support
Under South Carolina law, each parent has a duty to support his or her children. For non-custodial parents, this usually means paying money to the other parent for the care and well-being of shared minor children. The duty to support generally extends until your child is 18 years old, and sometimes until your child is 19 years old or graduates from high school.
South Carolina’s Integrated Child Support Services is responsible for establishing and enforcing child support in Columbus. The CSEA can be your resource for:
- Establishing paternity;
- Locating absent parents;
- Creating, enforcing, and modifying child support orders; and
- Collecting and distributing child support payments.
Applications are available at the department’s Regional Child Support Offices, County Department of Social Services Offices, and County Clerks of Court Offices. You can request an application by calling the ICSSD toll-free number (800) 768-5858 or you can download the application from their forms and documents website.
Child Support Amounts in South Carolina
Child support is calculated using the South Carolina Child Support Guidelines, which use the parents' gross income and the number of children to establish a support calculation. The Guidelines, as well as a Child Support Calculator, are available online to give you an estimate of what you might owe or receive in child support.
Either parent can request a modification to a child support order until the duty no longer exists. As with child custody orders, modifications are appropriate if you can demonstrate a "substantial change of circumstances.” Common changes of circumstances include a change in income for either you or your ex (or both); changes in the "time sharing" arrangements that you have with your child; and changes in your child’s needs.
Family law issues can be especially tough to figure out, and consulting with an experienced family law attorney in South Carolina could help with the process. You can also visit FindLaw’s sections on Child Custody and Child Support for more general information.