Are You Going Through a Greenville Child Custody Battle? We are Here to Help

Child custody battles can be a stressful and emotional process for parents and children alike. In Greenville, South Carolina, our experienced child custody lawyers understand the laws and regulations that govern child custody cases.  David W. Martin Law Group will ensure that the best interests of your child or children are prioritized. You can call us at 803-879-2998 today for questions about your child custody case.

What is the Difference Between Joint and Sole Custody?

Joint custody means both parents have equal rights and responsibilities for major decisions in the child’s life. This can include, but is not limited to the children’s:

  • Education;
  • Medical and dental care;
  • Extracurricular activities;
  • And religious training.

Even where there is split custody between parents, a court can designate one parent to make specific decisions. For example, a court could appoint only Mom to make decisions about religion if Dad is not religious and does not care to have input in that area of the children’s lives. Or if the kids are with Dad during the school week, the court could find dad is more equipped to make decisions about extracurricular activities as he is the one transporting them to and from those activities.

Sole custody is where one person, often a parent, makes all of the decisions for the child and has the sole responsibility for major decisions in the child’s life. This could be the case where one parent is absent, abusive, or lives out of state. In situations where one parent has sole custody, the other parent (noncustodial parent) can be awarded appropriate parenting time. That is generally called parenting time or visitation, which can be supervised if the court orders.

How is Paternity Established?

When a child is born within a marriage, there is a rebuttable presumption that the woman’s spouse is the father of the child. There is an exception in those cases where another biological father claims paternity instead of the mother’s spouse. This presumption applies where a child is born within 300 days of a marriage ending as well.

A father can establish paternity to try to get custody over their child or children. There are several ways to establish paternity, including:

  • Voluntary acknowledgment of paternity through a signature on a birth certificate;
  • Identified by the mother as the father of the child;
  • Relationship with the child and whether they have accepted parental responsibility for the child; or
  • DNA testing.

Without establishing paternity, a father does not have visitation or custody rights with their child. This means they will not have any of the rights and responsibilities to make decisions in the child’s life. Perhaps most seriously, if a father has not established paternity, they will not be notified by the courts of their child’s adoption. For example, if a mother marries a new spouse and that spouse adopts the child, the child’s biological father will not be notified if that father has not established paternity in one of the ways explained above.

Does the Child Get to Pick Where They Want to Live?

When determining a custody arrangement for a family, the court has to consider the child’s preference for which parent they want to live with. However, that child’s preference has to be reasonable. For example, if the child tells the court they want to live with Mom because she has more candy than Dad, the court will likely not take that preference seriously. South Carolina law states that the court should place weight on the child’s preference based on the child’s age, experience, maturity, judgment, and ability to express their preferences.

Ultimately, the primary standard in any child custody case is the ‘best interests’ of the child based on the evidence presented. The best interest standard takes into consideration the following factors:

  • The temperament and developmental needs of the child;
  • The capacity and the disposition of the parents to understand and meet the needs of the child;
  • The preferences of each child;
  • The wishes of the parents as to custody;
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • The manipulation by or coercive behavior of the parents in an effort to involve the child in the parents’ dispute;
  • Any effort by one parent to disparage the other parent in front of the child;
  • The ability of each parent to be actively involved in the life of the child;
  • The child’s adjustment to his or her home, school, and community environments;
  • The stability of the child’s existing and proposed residences;
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, except that a disability of a proposed custodial parent or another 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;
  • The child’s cultural and spiritual background;
  • Whether the child or a sibling of the child has been abused or neglected;
  • 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;
  • 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
  • Any other factors as the court considers necessary.

What is a Guardian Ad Litem?

A guardian ad litem is a court-appointed person who will interview parents, children, family members, friends, school personnel, and other important people in the family’s life. They are more likely to be appointed in cases where a court determines without the guardian, the court would not be fully informed of the facts of the case, there is a substantial dispute in the case or both parties consent to a guardian being appointed. The guardian will collect evidence regarding the children and determine what the best custody arrangement is for the children. Their primary consideration is the best interests of the child at issue.

What is a Parenting Plan?

When in a custody battle, each parent must prepare, file, and submit a parenting plan to the court. However, if the parents both agree on a parenting plan, they can negotiate or mediate the plan outside of court. Or the parties can create a joint parenting plan and submit it to the court to enter a final order. A parenting plan reflects each parent’s preferences in raising their child, this can include:

  •  Allocation of parenting time to be spent with each parent; and
  • Major decisions (education, medical care, extracurricular activities, religious training).

Once a Custody Order is Entered By the Court, Can it Ever Be Changed?

Yes, court-ordered parenting plans can be modified in several different ways. First, the parties can mutually agree to modify an agreement regarding custodial responsibility. This mutual agreement typically needs to be agreed upon by both parents in writing and signed.

Where parties do not mutually agree to change the custody agreement, but one parent wants to modify the agreement, there are different standards that must be met. In these situations, the parent who wants a change in the parenting plan has to demonstrate a substantial, material, and unanticipated change in circumstances. A material change includes new facts unknown at the time of the initial custody arrangement, circumstances that are endangering the child’s physical and emotional health, or a decline in the condition of the child when they spend time with the custodial parent. Further, that parent also has to show why it is in the best interest of the child to modify the parenting agreement. Examples of a substantial change could be a parent becoming unemployed, moving out of state, or remarrying.

What Happens if One of the Parents Moves?

A custodial parent cannot move without the other parent’s consent if that move would impact the custodial agreement in place. For example, if a mother moves 15 minutes away from her current residence, she will not have to seek consent from the father. When a mother is moving 2,000 miles away across the country, she will definitely have to ask permission.

Beyond that, a move that would change a custodial agreement triggers a reconsideration of the entire parenting plan. In this case, the court will look to the child’s best interests and determine whether the plan should be modified. The court will consider the following factors when making this decision:

  • The parent’s ability to maintain the existing parenting plan;
  • The ability of the child to maintain a relationship with both parents;
  • The child’s reasonable preferences;
  • The child’s quality of life in the new location compared to where they live now; and
  • Social and educational opportunities in each location for the child and parent.

Are You Ready to Talk to a Greenville Child Custody Attorney?

Child custody cases are emotionally intense and can be legally complicated, as well. For Greenville residents, it is important that you fully understand the laws and regulations that govern these cases to ensure that the best interests of the child are prioritized. You can visit us at 910 E. North Street, Greenville, South Carolina, or call us at 803-879-2998 today for questions about your child custody case or family law in general.  David W. Martin Law Group are here to help.

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