Child custody can be a highly contentious issue when parents separate and divorce. Parents will want to spend as much time with their children as possible. For the children, it is equally difficult. They will have many questions and wonder if they will have a say in which parent they will live with as the family moves forward. Do they get to choose?

It is important that parents understand what to expect during child custody proceedings so they can prepare themselves and their children for what may happen in the future. It is also important to speak with an experienced South Carolina family law attorney. 

At McKinney, Tucker & Lemel LLC, we can meet with you to discuss your divorce and child custody issues in a confidential consultation. We have decades of combined experience with helping families throughout Rock Hill, Fort Mill and surrounding communities to work through their legal issues. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you, too.

What Are Different Types of Child Custody in South Carolina?

When most people think about child custody, they think of where the child will live, or physical custody. However, child custody also involves legal custody, or the ability of one or both parents to make important decisions for the child such as what kind of education the child will receive and what religion they will be raised in. 

A judge may award sole or joint legal custody. Sole legal custody means that one parent will make all of the decisions for the child, while shared custody means both parents will make the decisions. When awarding joint legal custody, a judge may also allow one parent to make certain decisions on their own, while both parents will have a say in other decisions.

Like legal custody, physical custody can be sole or joint custody as well. A court will award sole physical custody only in extreme cases, or when one parent is either unfit to live with the child or poses a real danger to the child.

How Does South Carolina Determine Child Custody?

South Carolina law dictates that when making decisions about child custody, a court must consider what is in the best interests of the child. Child custody is not always awarded to the primary caretaker. Instead, it is still largely assumed that the primary caretaker will be awarded child custody. If the child was born out of wedlock, it is assumed that the mother is the primary caretaker until the family courts decide otherwise.

Although the role of the primary caretaker is certainly a factor in child custody decisions, it is not the only consideration. The courts will also consider:

  • Morality of each parent
  • Character and attitude of each parent and how they impact the child
  • Physical, environmental, psychological, spiritual, medical, emotional, educational and recreational aspects of the child’s life
  • Recommendations made by the guardian ad litem
  • Emotional stability and support network of both parents
  • Parenting skills and education of each parent
  • Attentiveness of each parent to the educational needs of each child, particularly when a child has a learning disability
  • Any time constraints of the parents and how much time they can spend with the child
  • Any evidence of domestic violence.

So, as you can see, many factors must be taken into consideration when determining what is in the best interests of the child. For this reason, child custody hearings are typically quite lengthy. The factors are also always changing. For example, in just the past decade, the issue of whether one parent smokes in the home or around the child has also been added to the list of factors determining the best interests of the child.

What Role Does a Child’s Preference Play in Custody Determinations?

Often, a child will prefer to live with one parent over another. Whether the court takes this preference into consideration will depend on many factors. The factor that will carry the most weight is the age of the child. 

Generally speaking, if the child is younger than 12 years old, the court will likely not heavily weigh the child’s preference. When a child is between 12 and 14 years of age, a court will weigh the preference more heavily, but the court will not necessarily make a decision based on that preference. In cases when the child is 14 years of age or older, the court will greatly consider the preference of the child – particularly if the child is over age 16.

In South Carolina, a court generally does not want to put a child on the stand to testify. Testifying can become an extremely difficult and emotional process. Instead, a guardian ad litem will typically voice the child’s concerns and preferences.

A court will appoint a guardian ad litem in most divorce cases that involve child custody hearings. The guardian ad litem is considered the child’s representative and works in the child’s best interests. During divorce proceedings, the guardian ad item will investigate different aspects of the child’s life, observe the child’s interaction with each parent and communicate with the parents and other parties such as witnesses that can attest to the child’s life with each parent.

Get Help from a South Carolina Child Custody Lawyer

Divorces are never easy. When they involve children, they are much more difficult. There are many aspects to consider pertaining to child custody, and these matters may cause worry among all members of the family. A child custody lawyer at McKinney, Tucker & Lemel LLC, can help to ease those fears, explain the process and work hard to find a positive resolution to your case which meets your objectives.

If you are going through a divorce, do not do it alone. At McKinney, Tucker & Lemel LLC, our attorneys are here to help. We know how challenging the divorce process is and we want to make it as easy as possible so you can move on with your life. Contact us today to schedule your consultation. 

After he graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1987, Jim Tucker joined the law firm of McKinney, Givens & Millar in Rock Hill. He has remained with successor firms at the same location ever since while focusing his practice in the areas of family law and personal injury law. Jim is licensed in South Carolina and North Carolina, and he represents clients in both states at the trial and appellate levels. Jim is also a certified mediator and a highly active member of several state and local legal organizations who once served as President of the York County Bar Association.