Child Custody Services

Child Custody Services

Perhaps no family law issue is of greater importance than child custody law.  Money is fungible; children are not.  Having an experienced South Carolina attorney for child custody to protect one’s right to custody and visitation with one’s child is of the utmost importance.

Child Custody Law terminology is basically meaningless unless defined

Numerous terms are thrown about by the public to describe child custody services: joint custody, primary custody, sole custody, shared custody.  However, these terms are typically meaningless unless the court order setting forth custody defines them.  Offering a party who will have little time with the child joint custody does not give that parent more time or control over the child; it merely allows that parent to save face. Child custody attorneys can help you understand the terminology and implications of each form of custody.

An experienced child custody attorney could intelligently draft a custody order without every employing the word custody.  What the public thinks of as child custody law is actually three separate things: 1) control of the child’s time; 2) legal decision making for the child; 3) whose residence determines the child’s school. The goal of any child custody services are to look out for the best interests of the child.

Control of the child’s time

Even the most obvious component of child custody law, time with the child, is not what most folks in a custody dispute think it is.  When one is awarded time with a child, one is really awarded the right to control that portion of the child’s time.  For example, a parent who has custody on the weekend has not lost custody merely because that child is spending time with a friend or family member.  However, the parent who has control over a certain time period gets to decide where that child spends time.  This is why few custody cases need a provision for grandparent visitation: the grandparents can simply visit during their own child’s time with the grandchild.

Thirty years ago, the family court typically awarded mothers custody and fathers every other weekend, alternating holidays, and a few weeks at summer.  Now, the South Carolina courts are more likely than they were in the past to award fathers custody.  Further, the parent who does not get primary physical custody is more likely to get more time with the child. Hiring an attorney for child custody cases can help you protect your time with your child.

Legal decision making

The next aspect of child custody law is who gets to make decisions for the child.  Typically, one parent has final decision-making authority after a duty to consult with the other parent (a duty that some custodial parents take more seriously than others, but is hard to enforce unless the custodial parent simply makes the decision before informing the other parent).  Legal custody is typically awarded to the parent who has been the primary caretaker for the child.  However, areas of responsibility for decisions can be divided between the parties.  If one parent is particularly involved in education, extracurricular, religious or medical issues, that parent can have primary legal custody on that issue and the other parent can have primary legal custody on the other issues.  Such divided legal custody is often desirable when one parent has been less involved overall but is more involved with religion or has coached the child in some extracurricular activity. For more information regarding your specific case consult with a child custody attorney.

Residence for school

The final area child custody law addresses is where the child will go to school.  Where parents live close by, but one parent lives in a much better school district, making that parent’s residence the residence for the child’s school can be beneficial for the child.

What factors go into a custody determination

South Carolina family law has numerous statutory factors to consider when deciding child custody.  The overriding factor is typically who has been the primary caretaker for the child in the past and how much responsibility the other parent has taken for the child’s care.  Unless there are reasons to deviate greatly from this status quo, the court is unlikely to do so.  Where the parents were living in one household until recently, the family court will still attempt to determine how care for the child was divided and accomplish a similar division post separation. A child custody lawyer can help you understand where you stand which each of these factors for your case.

However, where one parent is unfit or making decisions to the child’s detriment, the court is likely to modify the status quo and give the other parent more time with the child (along with control over decision making).  Some of the most challenging custody cases are those in which one parent alleges the other parent is unfit or engaging in poor decision-making.  Proving or defending these allegations can greatly benefit from the efforts of an experienced, knowledgeable, diligent child custody attorney.

Unusual circumstances call for creative visitation orders

Most family court orders will set a bi-weekly visitation/custody schedule, divide Spring Break, Thanksgiving, and Christmas holidays, and set a separate summer schedule.  This works well when parents live nearby and work typical morning-to-afternoon, Monday-through-Friday schedules.  However when folks do not live nearby or when one or both parents works an irregular schedule, such visitation schedules can leave both parents frustrated.  An analysis of when the non-custodial parent can best spend time with the child, and when the custodial parent is least inconvenienced by the other parent spending time with the child, results in a better visitation order in these circumstances.

Modifying Child Custody

Child custody (and visitation) can always be modified upon a showing of substantial change of circumstances.  What constitutes a “substantial change of circumstances” is purposefully vague and parents unhappy with their custody orders will often search for a basis to go back to court. Often this results in disaster if the alleged basis is insubstantial–that parent can find him or herself actually going backward and paying the other party’s attorney’s fees.

The most common methods of modifying child custody is when the other parent is unfit, the other parent is failing to address problems the children are having, the children have a strong and reasonable preference and are of suitable age that their preferences will carry weight, or the actual order and the recent status quo on custody do not align and one parent wants the order to reflect the status quo.  An experienced child custody lawyer can provide guidance on whether to pursue child custody modification.

Relocation

Perhaps few issues are move vexing in family court than when a custodial parent wishes to relocate.  The non-custodial parent often fears a loss in his or her relationship with the children and, if that parent has been an active and positive presence in the children’s lives, the family court judge will share that concern.  For situations in which the parties have been sharing 50-50 custody (or close to it) the parent wishing to relocation will essentially need to establish that joint physical custody is no longer in the children’s best interests before the court will even consider the relocation case.  Often such relocating joint-custody parents must chose between forgoing the relocation or relinquishing joint physical custody.

There are numerous strategies an experienced child custody attorney can employ to increase the chance that a custodial parent can relocate or assist the non-custodial parent in preventing the relocation. An experienced child custody attorney can also develop creative custody and visitation arrangements that allow the custodial parent to relocate with the other parent’s consent.  Having an experiences child custody attorney’s representation in relocation cases is vital.

Child Custody Lawyer

An experienced South Carolina child custody attorney knows the factors a court considers most important in determining custody, and can help a parent achieve his or her most important goals in maintaining a relationship with the child or protecting the child from a problematic co-parent. If you would like to retain Gregory Forman’s as your child custody attorney please contact him here.

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