Nov 10

What is Sole Custody in South Carolina?

Written by: Megan Dell


What Does Sole Custody Mean?

How is sole legal custody defined? Is sole custody the same as full custody? As the law changes, there is more and more confusion about this answer. We still have custody laws in SC: with sole custody in South Carolina, there is no presumption in favor of joint custody.

Sole custody means that a child’s sole custodian is authorized to make all major decisions for the child, without first consulting the other parent.

In exploring the complex world of child custody, it’s crucial to understand the definitions and differences between joint and sole custody. At its core, sole legal custody in South Carolina is defined as a situation where one parent is authorized to make all major decisions for the child, without first consulting the other parent. This stands in contrast to joint custody where decision-making duties are shared.

There are various grounds for sole custody, ranging from practical matters such as distance between the parents’ residences to more serious issues. For instance, a parent struggling with mental illness or substance abuse could be seen as unfit to participate in major decision-making for the child. These conditions can greatly influence a court’s decision to award sole legal custody to the other parent.

Myths about Sole Custody in South Carolina

Another common misconception around sole custody pertains to its duration. Many people ask, “how long does sole custody last?” It’s important to know that the duration of sole custody isn’t fixed. It can last until the child turns 18 or until a court modifies the order in light of changed circumstances.

Although sole custody in South Carolina does provide one parent with decision-making rights, the label ‘sole custody’ shouldn’t be misinterpreted. It does not always imply that the other parent is unfit or under the custody of the law. Instead, it could be awarded when it best serves the interests of the child.

In cases of sole custody, it’s not unusual for one parent to have sole physical custody while the other parent maintains visitation rights. This means the child resides with one parent, but the other parent is still entitled to spend time with the child.

When Sole Custody is The Way to Go

For example, if two parents are not able to communicate effectively about their child’s needs (and attempts at communication break down into hostility), then sole custody may be a better choice. Or if two parents live very far apart, it may be difficult for one parent to participate regularly in caring for the child’s educational or medical needs. Additionally, in cases involving domestic violence, where the safety and well-being of the child and the custodial parent are at risk, granting sole custody becomes crucial. Protecting the child from potential harm and ensuring a stable and secure environment may require limiting the non-custodial parent’s access and denying custody rights through a legal custody arrangement. In such circumstances, sole custody, including both legal and physical custody, can provide the necessary protection and stability for the child’s upbringing.

The Label of ‘Sole Custody’: What Does It Mean? and What it Doesn’t Mean

Many parents resist the label of sole custody, or legal custody, of full custody because they fear that their access to their children’s information will be restricted, but there are certain rights that each parent has, regardless of whether sole custody is ordered. You might have questions about sole physical custody meaning, are sole custody and sole physical custody the same? What about unmarried mothers rights in South Carolina, fathers rights, or unmarried parents? Is there a need to establish paternity first? You are not alone if you have these types of questions! 

Making Decisions Concerning the Child

The designation of “sole custody” indicates that one parent will be responsible for making major decisions concerning the child’s welfare, including ensuring education, medical, and dental care needs are met.

Accessing Information About the Child

While a sole custody arrangement entitles one parent to make make major decisions about the child’s wellbeing, the noncustodial parent will still be entitled to visitation with the child and have access to the child’s medical and educational records.

Two statutes, S.C. Code Ann. § 63-5-30  and S.C. Code Ann. § 63-15-260, detail these rights and provide that parents have equal rights to their child’s medical and educational records, and has the right to participate in the child’s school and extracurricular activities when they are held in a public place. Because of these protections, there are many situations when sole custody is more appropriate than joint custody.

Sole Custody Doesn’t Affect Parenting Time

Many parents believe that to have a substantial amount of time with their child, they must pursue joint custody, but that is not true. The schedule for parenting time is set based on the developmental needs of the child and other interests of the child. Parents and the child are still able to spend time together, regardless of which parent has sole custody.

Seek Expert Advice Around Custody Arrangements

Finally, if you’re navigating these murky waters, it’s critical to consult with a family law attorney. These legal professionals can clarify the difference between joint legal custody versus sole custody, and guide you through the process of petitioning to award sole legal custody in court.

Whether you’re wondering what sole custody entails, struggling with the complexities of joint vs. sole custody, or grappling with issues of mental illness, substance abuse, or distance, understanding the grounds for sole custody and seeking professional legal advice is a must.

Ready to schedule a consultation with our family law attorney? Contact us today to discuss your particular situation regarding child custody.