What are the different types of child custody arrangements that are possible in SC?
When parents decide to separate or get divorced, they must also decide who will have custody of the children. If the parents cannot agree on a custody arrangement, the family court will make the decision for them after hearing from their attorneys – in either case, custody must be decided based on the best interests of the child.
Most people think of custody as “who the child will live with,” and it is that. It is also more than that. There are several different types of child custody arrangements in SC, including:
- Sole legal custody,
- Joint legal custody,
- Sole physical custody,
- Joint physical custody, and
- Variations of sole and shared legal or physical custody.
Types of Child Custody in SC: Legal Custody
The different types of child custody in SC include legal custody and physical custody, and these can be further broken down into sole or joint legal custody and sole or joint physical custody.
Legal custody refers to which parent will make important decisions regarding their child, including things like:
- Medical or dental treatment,
- Religious activities, and
- Extracurricular activities like sports, music, or dance.
But who gets to make these decisions? One parent? Both parents? What if they can’t agree?
Sole Legal Custody
Sole legal custody is when one parent makes the most important decisions about a child’s life and upbringing. Although the other parent may have some input, the final decision is made by the parent with sole legal custody.
Joint legal custody is preferred by most parents, but sole legal custody will be ordered when one parent is unavailable, when one parent is unwilling or unable to make decisions in the best interests of the child, or when the parents cannot agree and cannot work out their differences.
Joint Legal Custody
When both parents can communicate with one another and are able to make decisions together that are in the best interests of the child, the family court may order joint legal custody.
Shared legal custody can be creative, and a proposed custody order or separation agreement can specify details like:
- Areas where one parent or the other will have the final say on decisions affecting the child,
- Areas where both parents will make decisions jointly, and
- A method for resolving disputes without going back to court, like mediation.
Types of Child Custody in SC: Physical Custody
Physical custody of a child refers to where the child lives and how the child’s time is divided between the parents. Physical custody can be sole custody or shared custody, and, in most cases, there must also be a visitation schedule that specifies when and how the noncustodial parent will take the child for evening and overnight visits.
Sole Physical Custody
The most common arrangement is for one parent to have sole physical custody – the child lives with that parent – and for the noncustodial parent to have regular visitation with the child.
Sole custody with no visitation is uncommon, but it can be ordered in situations where the noncustodial parent is unfit, is a danger to the children, or simply refuses to participate in the child’s life.
Joint, or Shared Physical Custody
Joint physical custody, shared custody, or co-parenting is where the parents share the time that the child spends in each home. It could be a 50/50 split, it could be alternating weeks or alternating months, or it could be any variation that is crafted based on the parents’ situation and the needs of the child.
When there are two or more children, another type of child custody is “divided custody,” where each parent takes sole physical custody of one child with visitation rights to the other child or children.
Joint custody and divided custody are not as common and family courts prefer to order sole physical custody arrangements with visitation rights because:
- Many divorced parents cannot cooperate well enough to make shared custody work,
- Divided custody effectively separates siblings which can have a negative impact on their lives and development, and
- Alternating custody arrangements can be very disruptive to a child and may create an unstable environment.
The bottom line is the family court will order a custody arrangement that is in the child’s best interests. Although it is ordinarily in the child’s best interests for one parent to have sole custody and the other parent to have regular visitation, there are unique situations where the parents can resolve their conflicts and where a child’s needs dictate shared or divided custody.
The noncustodial parent will almost always have some type of visitation rights unless they are unavailable, or the court finds that they are a danger to the child.
Even when there is uncertainty about the noncustodial parent’s ability to care for their child, the court can order supervised visitation, where a grandparent or another responsible party must be present when the noncustodial parent visits with their child.
Although it is most common for the family court to order (or the parties to agree to) sole physical custody with a standard visitation schedule (alternating weekends and holidays, for example), you could think of it as a continuum from 1) sole custody with no visitation to 2) shared custody with time split equally between the parents’ homes.
Questions about the different types of child custody in SC?
If you are considering separation or divorce and there are children involved, your Myrtle Beach child custody lawyer on the Axelrod team may be able to help.