There are two types of custody in South Carolina legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody concerns the ability to make decisions and to consult with one another on behalf of the children. Physical custody refers to where the children reside and when they spend time with each parent. Traditionally, the courts in South Carolina awarded sole legal and physical custody to one parent or the other. In sole custody situations, the children reside with one parent who makes all the decisions regarding the children with no duty to consult with the noncustodial parent. The noncustodial parent is awarded visitation, which typically was an every other weekend schedule. However, the trend is changing. Courts are more likely to award joint legal custody, with primary physical custody to one parent. Joint legal custody gives both parents input into major decisions concerning the child. Despite there being a duty to consult with each other on important issues concerning the children, there is still generally one parent who has final decision making authority. Primary physical custody (where the children live) is still generally given to one parent. The time the children spend with the noncustodial parent is referred to as parenting time, rather than visitation. It may still consist of the standard every other weekend, but it is not unusual for the court to provide additional parenting time to the noncustodial parent during the week. Unless there is an agreement by the parents to split physical time 50/50, the family court is very unlikely to award split time in a contested custody case.
A standard visitation arrangement in South Carolina usually consists of every other weekend from Friday at 6:00 p.m. through Sunday at 6:00 p.m., one evening during the week from approximately 5:00 p.m. through 7:00 p.m., alternating major holidays and 2 to 4 weeks of summer vacation.
A guardian ad litem is a person appointed by the Court to conduct an independent investigation on behalf of the Court and to advocate for the best interests of the children. The guardian ad litem is usually an attorney who is either agreed upon by both parties, or selected by the family court judge. The guardian ad litem’s duties include, but are not limited to, speaking with the children, interviewing the parties and other witnesses, conducting home visits and reviewing relevant records pertaining to the child. The guardian ad litem does not however make a recommendation to the Court as to who should receive custody, except in unusual circumstances.
Whenever child custody is at issue, the family court will take such action as it deems in the best interests of the children. The gender of a person no longer is a legal basis upon which to award custody of the children.