Understanding the Best Interest of the Child in Custody Cases

Understanding the Best Interest of the Child in Custody Cases

Divorcing couples hear the phrase often from attorneys and judges: “the best interests of the child.” But what exactly does this mean? Clearly, most parents feel they are acting in their children’s best interests, even if opinions may vary widely between disputing sides.  Indeed, most divorces involve couples who cannot agree on things. After all, that’s probably part of why they are getting divorced. When a judge says that a decision is being based on the best interests of the child in custody cases, many parents experience frustration and confusion.

Title 63 – The South Carolina Children’s Code

South Carolina law provides a specific section of the Code just for determining a child’s best interests for custody, visitation, and ongoing care. The words “best interest(s) of the child” appear 21 times in Title 63 of the Code.

Custody and Visitation

Until 1994, South Carolina applied the “Tender Years Doctrine,” which basically said that mothers should be the presumptive custodian. This law was abolished. Likewise, South Carolina is among the minority of states that prefer not to use joint parenting agreements.

South Carolina has determined that this leads to more disputes than simply rendering one parent the primary custodian and then giving the other parent visitation. Still, under Section 63-15-230(B), the court can award sole or joint custody, depending on the facts of the case.

General Considerations for Custody and Visitation

Although the concept of the best interests of the child in custody cases may seem vague, there are actually 16 specific things a court can consider when deciding whether a certain course of action is indeed best for children (See the following summary of factors listed in the Children’s Code, Section 63-15-240(B)):

  1. temperament and developmental needs of the child
  2. capacity and disposition of parents to meet child’s needs
  3. preferences of the child
  4. wishes of the parents
  5. relationships between children and parents, siblings, and extended family; actions of parents in complying with court orders and encouraging the child’s relationship with the other parent and extended family
  6. the manipulative or coercive behavior of parents
  7. parents disparaging each other in front of the child
  8. the ability of the parent to be involved in the child’s life
  9. the child’s adjustment to home, school, and community
  10. stability of child’s current and potential residences
  11. the mental and physical health of everyone involved (parent’s disability cannot in and of itself be grounds for finding custody is against best interests of the child);
  12. child’s cultural and spiritual background
  13. whether child or sibling has been abused or neglected
  14. existence and effects of child abuse or domestic violence
  15. relocation of parents; and
  16. any other factors the court considers necessary

Courts Have Broad Powers

As you can probably see from the 16 statutory factors listed above (specifically #16), the court can exercise sweeping power for reviewing the entire facts and circumstances at play in a child’s life. Judges are particularly careful not to overreach or read their own personal or religious beliefs into their decisions. Nevertheless, an experienced family law attorney can often make all the difference when arguing why certain factors weigh more in favor of one parent over the other.

Get Help With Your Custody Case

If you are involved in a dispute regarding the principles of the best interest of the child in custody cases in the Mount Pleasant or surrounding areas of South Carolina, contact Klok Law Firm LLC.  You will be able to speak with a knowledgeable attorney about your case. When children are involved, there is simply too much at stake to take your chances being unrepresented.