By Greenville Divorce Lawyer
John DeVore Compton, III
As we have discussed in prior posts, custody of children is a complicated matter when parents don’t get along. It is always best if parents can agree on child custody and visitation arrangements in advance, before going to court. Parents can enter into a custody agreement at any time, but it is best if that gets worked out before filing for divorce.
South Carolina provides a tool to help with theses decisions with a proposed parenting plan form which you can find here. Depending on the County a divorce is filed in, the Family Court may require this form to be presented at a Temporary Hearing. Some require the form to be completed and submitted wishing a few days after a Temporary hearing.
But what if you and your spouse can’t get along well enough to cooperate in filling out a parenting plan?
That’s OK. Either party may fill out the form, declaring their wishes about custody and visitation on their own, without input from the other spouse.
Still, it is better to enter into a formal Custody and Visitation Agreement between the parties, before going to court. Your lawyer will craft this agreement in consultation with you and your spouse’s attorney (or together if you are in agreement). A formally drafted agreement gives the court specific clarity about parents’ wishes, which the Court will likely follow. The only exception being is if the Family Court deems, on the face of the document, that it is not in the best interest of the parties’ children.
Entering into a Custody and Visitation agreement will ultimately save money too, because the Family Court will not (in most cases) require an appointment of a Guardian ad Litem, whose fees can become very high over the course of any fighting over the children. It can save money in other ways too, as a Guardian ad Litem, or the Judge could request child and family counseling, prior to making a decision about custody and visitation.
As always, if parents can put their children first, and work for the best interests of their children up front, the divorce litigation will run much more smoothly, cost less, preserve the family (as much as possible), and save money.
On the other hand, if one party is clearly unfit – such as having chronic alcohol or drug addictions – this may not be possible.
But, the best interests of the child(ren) should always be foremost in one’s mind before filing for divorce.