Child Custody and Relocation in South Carolina

It’s common for a divorced parent to move for a new job or marriage, but this can create problems for the other parent, including decreased parenting time and increased visitation costs. Learn more about child custody and relocation in South Carolina.

By , Attorney · Cooley Law School
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It's common for a divorced parent to relocate, but this can create problems for the other parent, including decreased parenting time and increased visitation costs. In South Carolina, a custodial parent who wants to move out-of-state with the children must ask a judge for permission. If the other parent objects to the relocation, the court will hold a hearing to determine if the move is in the child's best interests.

What Constitutes a Relocation?

Custodial parents are free to relocate within the state of South Carolina with their minor children. The court understands that in relocation cases, the needs of both parents are rarely both satisfied, but it will not interfere with an in-state move unless it determines that there is a compelling reason to intervene. If the custodial parent wants to move out-of-state, they must ask the other parent and court for permission. If the other parent disagrees with the relocation, they can object to the proposed move and ask the court to deny the request.

What Does the Court Consider During a Relocation Hearing?

Before a court will approve or deny an out-of-state move, the parents each need to present evidence—witnesses, documents, or any other relevant information—to prove why the child should remain in their care.

The custodial parent should be able to demonstrate:

  • the potential advantages of the proposed move—such as better employment, family support, or educational opportunities
  • the move will improve both the child's and custodial parent's quality of life
  • care and thoughtfulness in making the decision to relocate, and
  • the availability of realistic substitute visitation arrangements that will foster an ongoing relationship between the child and non-custodial parent.

Both parents must show a good-faith reason for proposing, or opposing, the relocation. After the hearing, the court will review the evidence presented by both parents and decide to approve, or deny the relocation. If the court approves the relocation, it will provide a new visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent. Often, visitation for the non-custodial parent will change to summers, school breaks, and holidays. The court may also evaluate the increased transportation costs for visitation, and as a result, may modify child support. If the nonmoving parent disagrees with the relocation, they can ask the court to change custody.

Custody Basics

Custody modification is challenging and it's important to remember that the court does not grant custody to a parent as a reward, or deny it as punishment. When non-custodial parents want to modify custody orders, they must demonstrate that there has been a substantial change of circumstances since the last court order and that a change is in the child's best interest.

An out-of-state relocation is not enough, by itself, to show a change in circumstances. The parent must demonstrate that the change of circumstances is so substantial that the child's welfare is at risk. To do this, the court will evaluate the parent's past behavior, as well as the parent's current situation.

In a 1979 case, a father asked the court to make him the custodial parent when he discovered that his ex-wife was living with a married man. The court agreed that the wife's living situation demonstrated a change in circumstances, and awarded the father custody of the child. A few years later, both parties remarried, and the mother became more financially stable. As a result, the court granted the mother's petition to make her the custodial parent.

If a change of circumstances is present, the court will assess whether a modification is in the child's best interest by evaluating several circumstances— called the best interest factors. The court will consider:

  • the temperament and developmental needs of the child
  • the ability of each parent to understand and meet the needs of the child
  • the child's preference
  • the parents' wishes as to custody
  • the past and current interactions and relationships between the child and each parent
  • the actions of each parent to encourage the continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent
  • any manipulation or coercive behavior of the parents to involve the child in the parents' disputes
  • the child's adjustment to their home, school, and community environments
  • any effort by one parent to ridicule the other parent in front of the child
  • the stability of the child's current situation
  • the parent's mental and physical health
  • the ability of each parent to be involved in the child's life
  • whether the child has been abused or neglected, and
  • any other factors the court finds to be relevant to the case.

Both parents must establish that each factor favors their case. The court will evaluate each component equally and make its decision based on the evidence. The court may give its judgment the day of the hearing, or it may wait and send it in the mail. Until the court makes its decision, the current custody order will remain in effect.

Relocation cases are complicated. Not only do these situations involve changing residences and visitation schedules, you may also need to address modification of custody, which is difficult. If you want to relocate, or you object to a move, you should seek assistance from an experienced family law attorney.

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