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South Carolina Child Custody
Child Custody in South Carolina

According to South Carolina Code of Laws Section 20-3-160 and 20-7-1515 through 20-7-1530, the court determines the best interest of the child by considering several factors.

The court evaluates the overall family dynamics involving the parent and child relationship. The primary guideline in awarding custody is what serves for the best interests of the child, not who ought to be the custodian. The court considers the child's preference to be important.

The child's welfare is always on top of the courts' priorities, so the courts minimize the emotional impact of the custody proceedings on children of divorcing parents.

The courts are prohibited from choosing a custodian based solely on the parent's financial status or gender.

Divorcing parents write a parenting plan that outlines their respective roles in childrearing after divorce. This plan guarantees that the child's needs are met while parents live separately after divorce. The court intervenes when the parents cannot resolve issues.

There are two major types of child custody in South Carolina: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody means parents have the legal right to make and share in any decisions affecting the child. Physical custody means the parents' right to have actual contact with the child at a specified period of time.

Child custody laws in South Carolina list many factors that the family courts consider to produce a feasible custody arrangement. In selecting a custodian, the courts considers:

  • the wishes or preferences of the child as to custody, provided that he or she is mature enough to make such preferences, which is normally 12 or older;
  • any history of domestic violence, child abuse, negligence, or substance abuse;
  • the religious faith of the parents and child; and
  • any other factors that directly affect the child's welfare such as the nature of the parents' divorce.

South Carolina courts consider religious issues when deciding a child's best interest, one of only a few states to do so. Judges consider the circumstances of each parent, including earnings ability, lifestyle and amount of time available to nurture the child.

Under Section 63-15-30 of South Carolina's Code of Laws, a judge may consider which parent a child wants to live with if the judge feels the child is mature enough to make such a decision and the logic behind the choice is reasonable.

The court considers modification of a custody order when one of the parents proves a significant change in circumstances, so that the order is no longer in the child's best interests.

Mandatory Parenting Class

South Carolina courts have the right to require divorcing parents with minor children to complete a parenting class before granting a divorce. It is the Judge's discretion, so he or she may require you to take a parenting class. Whether or not you are required to do so, we highly recommend taking the Children In Between parenting class for the benefit of your child(ren).

Preferential Treatment Towards Mothers

South Carolina has abolished the Tender Years Doctrine, the principle that only a mother can adequately care for an infant or very young child. However, if parents have never been married, South Carolina considers the mother to have sole custody unless, and until, the father petitions the court to change that status quo.

Parental Conduct

In addition to finding a parent unfit because of substance abuse or abuse or neglect towards a child, the courts also consider the conduct of both parents during the course of the marriage, and the impact of parental behavior on the child.

Domestic violence in all forms is considered detrimental to a child, so if either parent has a history of violence - even if it is against a partner and not the child - South Carolina law allows a judge to deny him or her custody. Under Section 63-15-40 of South Carolina's Code of Laws, if a parent flees the home because he or she is a victim of domestic violence and if he or she must leave his or her children behind to do so, this cannot be held against him or her in a custody dispute.


The South Carolina courts have full discretion when determining visitation between children and parents. In cases where there is evidence of domestic violence, the courts shall take the necessary measures to protect the child and the other parent. Visitation or custody arrangements can be arranged in a manner that protects the child and the other parent such as supervised visitation, a bond to ensure the return and safety of the child, and counseling for the abuser.

Grandparents may receive visitation with their grandchildren in South Carolina.

Both withholding visitation because a parent isn't paying child support, and failure to pay child support are punishable by a judge.

A judge may also modify an existing order if the custodial parent is habitually and consistently denying visitation to the other parent. A judge can change custody or simply order makeup visitation time.

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