Typical Custody Arrangements in South Carolina: Physical and Legal Custody

Mother consoling her son through a tough custody arrangements

Custody arrangements are one of the most important decisions that parents will make during a divorce or separation. In South Carolina, there are two main types of custody arrangements: sole custody and joint custody. In addition, both can be categorized as either physical custody or legal custody. A parent or guardian with physical custody of a child means that the child resides with that parent. Legal custody refers to the parent or guardian that has decision-making authority.

Types of Custody Arrangements:

Sole Custody Arrangements

In a sole custody agreement, one parent has physical and legal custody of the child. This means that the child lives with that parent most of the time and that parent has the sole authority to make decisions about the child’s upbringing, such as education, medical care, and religion. The other parent may be granted visitation rights, but they do not have any legal authority over the child.

There are two types of sole custody:

      • Sole physical custody means that the child lives with one parent most of the time.

      • Sole legal custody means that one parent has the sole authority to make decisions about the child’s upbringing, such as education, medical care, and religion.

    Joint Custody Arrangements

    In a joint custody agreement, both parents have physical and legal custody of the child. This means that the child spends time with both parents and that both parents have equal authority to make decisions about the child’s upbringing. Joint custody can be either joint physical custody or joint legal custody.

    Joint Physical Custody

    In a joint physical custody agreement, the child lives with both parents for significant periods of time. This could mean that the child lives with each parent for an equal amount of time, or it could mean that the child lives with one parent for most of the year and the other parent for a few weeks or months each year.

    Joint Legal Custody

    In a joint legal custody agreement, both parents have the legal authority to make decisions about the child’s upbringing. This means that both parents have the right to make decisions about the child’s education, medical care, and religion. However, the child may primarily live with one parent.

    How Does Joint Custody Work?

    Typically, joint custody arrangements designate a primary parent and a secondary parent. The primary parent is usually the parent with whom the child resides. The secondary parent may have visitation with the child, but the child does not permanently reside with the secondary parent. However, the primary and secondary parents share equally in decision-making unless otherwise agreed upon.

    Which Custody Arrangement is Right for My Family?

    The best custody arrangement for your family will depend on your individual circumstances and the needs of your child. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, and it is important to work with an experienced family law attorney to determine which arrangement is right for you.

    Factors to Consider

    When deciding which custody arrangement is right for your family, you should consider the following factors:

        • The age and needs of your child

        • The relationship between your child and each parent

        • Stability of each parent’s home environment

        • Ability of each parent to provide for the child’s needs

        • The wishes of your child (if old enough to express them)

      The Importance of a Parenting Plan

      Once you have decided on a custody agreement, it is important to create a parenting plan. A parenting plan is a written document that outlines the details of your custody agreement, such as the child’s living arrangements, visitation schedule, and decision-making authority. A parenting plan can help to avoid conflict between you and your ex-spouse and ensure that your child’s needs are met.

      What Goes into a Parenting Plan?

      Custody disputes take time, so family courts will have temporary hearings to determine a custody agreement while waiting for the final determination. During this temporary hearing, the law requires that each parent submit a parenting plan to the court. Parenting plans should include an allocation of parenting time to be spent with each parent and who has the authority to make decisions. Remember that your parenting is just a proposal. The family court has the final determination of the custody arrangement, even the temporary arrangement.

      Here are some additional things to consider when choosing a custody agreement:

          • Your child’s needs: The most important factor to consider when choosing a custody arrangement is your child’s needs. What is best for your child? What type of relationship does your child have with each parent? What is the stability of each parent’s home environment?

          • Your own needs: You should also consider your own needs when choosing a custody arrangement. How much time do you want to spend with your child? What is your work schedule like? What is your financial situation?

          • The wishes of your child: If your child is old enough to express their wishes, you should consider them when choosing a custody arrangement. However, it is important to remember that the court will not always grant a child’s wishes, especially if the court believes that the wishes are not in the child’s best interests.

        What Do I Do if the Other Parent Won’t Agree on a Parenting Plan?

        Temporary orders are available to make sure that a parent does not lose time with their child. These temporary hearings allow the parties to get issues settled quickly so that each parent can focus on their child during this difficult time. These hearings also provide the opportunity for the parties to go before a judge, which allows the parties to address time-sensitive issues and get a sense of how the following proceedings will go.

        Temporary custody arrangements and parenting plans allow the parties to determine what works and what does not. The parenting plan submitted to the court can be revised before the final hearing. Your family law attorney will help talk you through what you liked about your temporary arrangement and what you hope to change in the final arrangement. Once you and your attorney have decided what arrangement to pursue permanently, your attorney can submit an updated parenting plan to the court for its consideration.

        How Do I Talk to an Attorney To Get These Issues Resolved?

        Custody disputes can be emotionally and financially draining. It is important to have someone who can break down the law and guide you through the process. Every family matter has its own unique needs. Contact us to schedule your virtual or in-person consultation to begin your custody journey.

        If you wish to learn more about family law, click here.

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