Domestic violence always leaves a scar – whether through physical or emotional abuse. Those scars can have long-lasting effects, especially when child custody is at issue.
A parent with a history of abuse toward a family member or child may have significant limitations placed on his or her visitation. In the most extreme cases of abuse, an abusive parent may lose his or her parental rights altogether. This article is an overview of domestic violence's impact on custody orders in South Carolina. If after reading this article you have questions, contact a local family law attorney for advice.
Domestic violence's effects last far longer than it's bruises. In South Carolina, domestic violence occurs when a person physically harms or threatens to physically harm or injure a household member. Household members include relatives by blood or marriage, individuals who live together or lived together previously, and current and former spouses. An individual found guilty of domestic violence on a first offense may receive a $1,000 fine or up to 30 days in prison. However, a third domestic violence conviction could result in a 5-year prison sentence and loss of custody.
Abuse is rarely a one-time occurrence. If you have been a victim of domestic violence and live in fear of future abuse, an order of protection may be necessary. Forms to file for an order of protection are available at any family courthouse, or online through the South Carolina Family Court site. If the judge determines that abuse has occurred and is likely to occur in the future, then your order of protection will be granted.
Help is available for victims of domestic violence through South Carolina's Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (SCCADVSA) which provides shelter and resource information. Each South Carolina county maintains a separate 24-hour emergency hotline with information available through SCCADVSA. Additionally, emergency assistance is available 24 hours a day by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
A custody decision will be based on the best interests of the child or children involved. The overarching goal in a custody case is to provide the safest physical custody (where child resides) and legal custody (decision-making power) arrangement for the child. This may be through a joint or sole custody arrangement. (See Child Custody in South Carolina to learn more.)
Any history of domestic violence or sexual abuse must be considered by a judge when awarding child custody. Although an abusive parent is not automatically prevented from receiving custody, South Carolina disfavors joint custody in abuse cases, believing it can result in further arguments between parents. Thus, even a single incident of domestic violence might lead a judge to award sole custody to the victimized parent to avoid potential custody battles. An abusive parent may have additional restrictions placed on his or her visitation as well.
Supervised visitation is a requirement that all visitation between a child and abusive parent be supervised by an authorized adult or agency. However, additional restrictions on supervised visits may include the following:
A supervised visitation requirement is generally temporary and can be removed if the abusive parent shows that traditional, unsupervised visitation would be in the best interests of the child.
A termination of parental rights is permanent and only occurs in the most severe cases of abuse. Before ordering a termination, a judge must find clear evidence of abuse and proof that a termination of the parent's relationship would serve the best interests of the child. Some situations that may result in a termination of rights are:
If you have additional questions about the impact of domestic violence on custody rights in South Carolina, contact a local family law attorney for advice.