Here are some of the elements a judge may consider in deciding a child custody case.
Primary caregiver. In South Carolina there is a presumption that the party that has been the primary caregiver of the child should be awarded primary physical custody.
Drug Abuse. It is fairly standard for the judge to order that both parties take a hair strand drug test and submit it to the court. Parents who abuse drugs or alcohol will not be awarded custody.
Wishes of the child. The judge may take the wishes of the child into consideration. While this is just one element, the older the child the more weight the judge is likley to give to the child's wishes.
Past custody. Who has historically had custody of the child and has that party provided a safe and stable environment for the child.
Parental behavior. Has there been domestic violence, excessive use of alcohol, criminal convictions, parental kidnapping, or any behavior that endangered the child
Encourages a relationship with other parent. Which parent will best foster a relationship between the child and the other parent. Has one parent withheld visitation to “punish" the other parent or made derogatory comments about the other parent.
Home Environment. Which parent offers the child the best stable home environment. This includes who can best supervise the child at home, the living conditions, what other adults and children, especially siblings, are in the home, the neighborhood where the home is located, which parent will be able to better continue the same school and friends.
Employment. Which parent is better able to financially provide for the child. If the parent works, what arrangements are there for babysitters, day care, etc. Does one parent travel.
Relatives. Does one parent have relatives that have a close relationship with the child.
Health. Does the child or a parent have any health issues that would impact the decision on custody. Which parent normally makes doctor appointments and accompanies the child to those appointments.
Religion. Which parent will expose the child to spiritual guidance and growth.
Relationship with child: The love, affection and emotional ties between the parent and child. With which parent does the child bond more, spends more time with the child, bathes and puts a young child to bed, prepares the child's meals and to which parent does the child openly show signs of affection.
Character. The judge will have to evaluate in a short period of time the character of the parties and whether one parents morality and credibility makes them the best parent to award custody.
The paramount and controlling factor in every custody dispute is the best interests of the child. Hooper v. Rockwell, 334 S.C. 281, 513 S.E.2d 358 (1999)
In determining custody, the family court "must consider the character, fitness, attitude, and inclinations on the part of each parent as they impact the child[ren]." Woodall, 322 S.C. at 11, 471 S.E.2d at 157. Because all relevant factors must be taken into consideration, the court should also review the "psychological, physical, environmental, spiritual, educational, medical, family, emotional and recreational aspects" of each child's life. Id. In other words, the totality of circumstances unique to each particular case "constitutes the only scale upon which the ultimate decision can be weighed." Parris v. Parris, 319 S.C. 308, 310, 460 S.E.2d 571, 572 (1995).
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