It is 216 months from the time a child is born until the time the child turns eighteen. Under South Carolina law the family court loses the power to decide a child’s custody once that child turns age eighteen. Thus, when fighting over custody, parties are, at most, fighting over 216 months of a child’s life. When those 216 months are over much of the work that a parent can do to establish a lasting relationship with his or her child has been done. Many people I know, as they approach old age, take comfort and meaning from the relationship they have with, and the memories they have of, their adult children and their adult children’s progeny.
There is a lesson in this: the number of months one is fighting over should help guide how much energy and fortune should be put into the fight. When one’s teenage child is in danger, it may make sense to fight over custody. However when there are two adequate parents, it makes little sense to fight over a seventeen year old’s custody: one is simply fighting over twelve (or fewer) months. Further, little that one parent or the other can do in that twelve month period is likely to have an adverse long-term impact upon the other parent’s relationship with the child.
However, when a child is younger protecting one’s relationship with the child is vital. Not only are many more months of the child’s life at stake, but changes in the child’s custodial relationship are likely to have a much greater impact upon the long term relationship each parent has with the child when the child is an adult.
In custody cases involving young children an attorney needs to be prepared to fight vigorously to protect a client’s relationship with the child. Further such custody cases are precisely the wrong type of case in which a parent should “economize” by going without representation or by hiring less capable representation. When necessary, a skilled attorney protecting the rights of a parent regarding his or her young child is one of the best investments one can make.