In a prior post, we discussed the importance of Parenting Plans and Child Custody when considering divorce or separation. These plans are mandatory and should be presented at a Temporary Hearing if possible. But be aware that a Parenting Plan is not definitive in a hotly contested custody battle, which tend to be expensive. There are multiple factors a court must consider in setting custody, or modifying an existing custody Order. These factors are found in the SC Children’s Code, specifically at § 63-15-240.
Here’s what the code states about child custody in South Carolina:
§ 63-15-240. Contents of order for custody affecting rights and responsibilities of parents; best interests of the child.
(A) In issuing or modifying an order for custody affecting the rights and responsibilities of the parents, the order may include, but is not limited to:
(1) the approval of a parenting plan;
(2) the award of sole custody to one parent with appropriate parenting time for the noncustodial parent;
(3) the award of joint custody, in which case the order must include:
(a) residential arrangements with each parent in accordance with the needs of each child; and
(b) how consultations and communications between the parents will take place, generally and specifically, with regard to major decisions concerning the child’s health, medical and dental care, education, extracurricular activities, and religious training;
(4) other custody arrangements as the court may determine to be in the best interest of the child.
(B) In issuing or modifying a custody order, the court must consider the best interest of the child, which may include, but is not limited to:
(1) the temperament and developmental needs of the child;
(2) the capacity and the disposition of the parents to understand and meet the needs of the child;
(3) the preferences of each child;
(4) the wishes of the parents as to custody;
(5) the past and current interaction and relationship of the child with each parent, the child’s siblings, and any other person, including a grandparent, who may significantly affect the best interest of the child;
(6) the actions of each parent to encourage the continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent, as is appropriate, including compliance with court orders;
(7) the manipulation by or coercive behavior of the parents in an effort to involve the child in the parents’ dispute;
(8) any effort by one parent to disparage the other parent in front of the child;
(9) the ability of each parent to be actively involved in the life of the child;
(10) the child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community environments;
(11) the stability of the child’s existing and proposed residences;
(12) the mental and physical health of all individuals involved, except that a disability of a proposed custodial parent or other party, in and of itself, must not be determinative of custody unless the proposed custodial arrangement is not in the best interest of the child;
(13) the child’s cultural and spiritual background;
(14) whether the child or a sibling of the child has been abused or neglected;
(15) whether one parent has perpetrated domestic violence or child abuse or the effect on the child of the actions of an abuser if any domestic violence has occurred between the parents or between a parent and another individual or between the parent and the child;
(16) whether one parent has relocated more than one hundred miles from the child’s primary residence in the past year, unless the parent relocated for safety reasons; and
(17) other factors as the court considers necessary.
As one can see, this is a complicated matter. But, the most important factor overall is what is in the best interests of the child. Those facing the prospect of a custody battle should seek competent legal counsel as soon as possible when divorce is imminent – and not wait until a lawsuit is served to seek advice.
John DeVore Compton, III