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53 Broad Street, Suite 205
Charleston, SC 29401
T: (843) 737-6040
F: (843) 737-6140   

Child Custody

Child Custody issues often arise in the context of marital litigation and divorce proceedings, but many child custody disputes can be resolved by an agreement between the parents. In determining which parent to award child custody to, the Court considers many factors. The most significant factor that the Court will consider is what is in the best interest of the child. Courts also consider other factors in making a child custody determination, such as the child’s preference, any previous history of domestic violence, the character, fitness, attitude, and inclinations of both parents, any immoral conduct of either parent that would be detrimental to the child, the religion of the parents, and any written agreements between the parents. The Court may also take into consideration which parent has been the historical primary caretaker of the child. South Carolina has abolished the “Tender Years Doctrine,” which previously created a presumption that smaller children should be placed with their mother, absent unique circumstances. This means that a father can obtain custody of his child, just as the mother could, if it would be in the best interest of the child.

Courts in South Carolina can award parents sole, joint, or shared custody of their children. Sole custody is the most common form of custody. Where sole custody is awarded, one parent is awarded legal and physical custody of the child and the other parent has visitation with the child, typically on alternating weekends, portions of holidays, and a few weeks in the summer.


Joint custody (also referred to as “shared custody”) involves joint legal custody, joint physical custody, or both. Joint physical custody is the sharing of the residential oversight and care of the child, whereas joint legal custody creates an expectation that both parents will share responsibility for making significant decisions regarding the child’s welfare and upbringing, including matters like education, religious training, and healthcare, just as they would as if the family were still intact. South Carolina Courts tend to disfavor joint custody arrangements as such arrangements can often be in contravention to the child’s best interest.

A Guardian Ad Litem ("GAL") may be appointed by the Court when custody is in dispute between the parents. Courts may also order, or the parties may agree, to engage a clinical psychologist to provide an opinion as to the child's best interest.

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