How Does Relocating Affect Custody?

How Does Relocating Affect Custody?

In South Carolina, as well as across the nation, it is common for a divorced parent to consider relocation with their children for various reasons, be it work-related, family-oriented, or simply to embark on a fresh start following the divorce.

However, such a decision can understandably raise concerns for the other parent, particularly regarding reduced time spent with their children, increased visitation expenses, and the emotional strain of separation.

At Sarah Henry Law, our team of family law attorneys in Greenville South Carolina recognizes the inherent complexities in such cases. These matters often take a long time to resolve in court.

In South Carolina, custody orders persist unless modified and approved by a judge, a process that includes assessing relocation requests in cases of parental disagreement. Should the other parent oppose the relocation, the court will convene a hearing to evaluate whether the move aligns with the child’s best interests.

If you are considering a child relocation request in South Carolina, finding a family law attorney you trust to advocate for your rights is crucial.

What is Child Relocation?

South Carolina family courts recognize that families frequently relocate and generally permit custodial parents to move within the state with their minor children without requiring court approval. Unless compelling reasons to necessitate judicial oversight exist, intrastate moves can usually proceed without reaching court.

However, if the custodial parent intends to relocate their children out of state, the other parent’s consent is typically required.

Disagreements over out-of-state moves are not uncommon, particularly in cases where the initial divorce was contentious.

At the Sarah Henry Law firm, we will help you present a compelling case with a comprehensive overview of how the proposed relocation will affect the children, positively or negatively.

What Information is Considered During a South Carolina Relocation Hearing?

Before a court can decide on an out-of-state relocation request, both parents must present evidence, including witnesses, documents, or any pertinent information, to support their positions regarding the child’s custody.

The custodial parent should be prepared to illustrate the following:

  • The potential benefits of the proposed move include improved employment prospects, familial support, or enhanced educational opportunities.
  • How will the relocation enhance the quality of life for both the child and the custodial parent?
  • Careful consideration and thoughtfulness in the decision-making process surrounding the relocation.
  • The availability of alternative visitation arrangements will facilitate an ongoing relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent.

Both parents must demonstrate a genuine, good-faith rationale for advocating or opposing the relocation. Following the hearing, the court will review the evidence presented by both parties and render a decision to approve or deny the relocation request.

If the court approves the relocation, it will establish a new visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent. Visitation arrangements for the non-custodial parent may be adjusted to accommodate summers, school breaks, and holidays. 

Additionally, the court may consider any increased transportation expenses associated with visitation and modify child support accordingly.

If the non-moving parent opposes the relocation, they can petition the court for a change in custody.

Custody Modification Basics

Modifying custody arrangements presents a complex legal challenge. When non-custodial parents seek custody modifications, they must demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances since the last court order and establish that such a change is in the child’s best interests.

Mere relocation to another state does not automatically indicate a significant change in circumstances. The parent requesting the custody modification must illustrate that the change is so substantial that it jeopardizes the child’s welfare. The court will scrutinize the parent’s past conduct and current circumstances to achieve this.

In a notable case in 1979, a father successfully sought custody when he discovered that his ex-wife was cohabitating with a married person. The court deemed this living arrangement a substantial change in circumstances and granted custody to the father. 

However, years later, when both parents remarried and the mother’s financial stability improved, the court revisited the case and granted her custody based on the altered circumstances.

If a change in circumstance is established, the court evaluates whether modifying custody aligns with the child’s best interests and considers various factors, such as:

  1. The child’s temperament and developmental needs
  2. Each parent’s capacity to understand and meet the child’s needs
  3. The child’s preferences
  4. Parental wishes regarding custody
  5. Past and present interactions between the child and each parent
  6. Efforts by each parent to foster the parent-child relationship
  7. Instances of manipulation or coercion involving the child
  8. The child’s adjustment to their home, school, and community
  9. Stability of the child’s current environment
  10. Parental mental and physical health
  11. Each parent’s ability to engage in the child’s life
  12. Any history of abuse or neglect
  13. Other relevant factors, as determined by the court

Both parents must demonstrate how each factor supports their case. The court meticulously evaluates each element and decides based on the evidence presented. The court may provide its ruling immediately following the hearing or communicate it later by mail. Until a decision is reached, the existing custody order remains in effect.

How Much Does a Child’s Preference Matter in South Carolina Custody Changes?

There is no specific age at which a child’s preferences become decisive. South Carolina family court judges are inclined to place more significance on the opinion of an older child, though they also consider factors like maturity, judgment, and capacity for reasonable decision-making.

If a child under the age of 12 demonstrates exceptional life experiences and maturity beyond their years, their preferences may be considered. Generally, though, the courts offer more weight to children’s opinions once they become 12-14 years old.

Once a child is above 16, their opinions become much weightier. However, so long as the child’s opinion is based on a well-reasoned viewpoint and their maturity, the court will consider it.

What Mental and Physical Health Conditions Can Affect Custody?

If you possess a mental or physical health condition that could potentially impact your parenting abilities, it is essential to be prepared to demonstrate to the court that it will not adversely affect your child. To accomplish this, you and your legal counsel can present evidence such as:

  • Your medical records may include details regarding the effects of treatments, medications, and therapies.
  • Statements from your healthcare providers regarding your prognosis and capabilities.
  • Testimony from expert witnesses offers insights into your condition’s likely impact on your parenting.
  • Testimony from individuals who have observed you caring for your child firsthand.

Facing inquiries from the court regarding your health and parenting ability can feel intrusive and unpleasant. It can be difficult not to get defensive, but it’s essential to recognize that the court isn’t trying to embarrass you for being ill. The court’s objective is the same as yours: ensuring the safety and well-being of your child. You know what’s in your child’s best interest, and your attorney will also help you convey this to the judge.

What Instances of Manipulation or Coercion Could Impact the Case?

In contentious divorces, it is unfortunately common for a parent to use their child as a pawn, leveraging them in disputes over custody, property, or finances. The manipulative parent may attempt to sabotage the other parent’s relationship with the children. This behavior, known as parental alienation, not only harms the targeted parent but also inflicts emotional damage on the children caught in the crossfire.

A manipulative parent could do things like:

  • Trying to convince the child that they will only be loved if they obey the manipulative parent’s wishes
  • Interfering with the other parent’s visitation time, often by offering tempting alternatives to distract the child
  • Expressing distress when the child spends time with the other parent
  • Consistently attempting to align the child against the other parent
  • Fabricating or distorting facts about the other parent, particularly concerning the divorce
  • Sharing inappropriate adult matters with the child
  • Using the child as a means of surveillance
  • Using the child as a messenger
  • Threatening to self-harm the other parent or child does not comply with the manipulative parent’s demands

Children can be terrified to approach a trusted adult with this information. Often, children don’t even understand that the manipulative parent’s behavior is wrong. It is essential to be aware of the warning signs of manipulation and alienation in your child, such as:

  • Your child is distant when you previously had a close relationship
  • Your child accuses you of something that you know is untrue
  • Your child suddenly starts defending the other parent to an unusual degree
  • Your child knows inappropriate details about your disputes and relationships with the other parent
  • It feels like your child is trying to interrogate you, seeking information about your plans regarding custody negotiations

Finding the Right Relocation Attorney for You in South Carolina

Relocation cases are intricate, involving changes in residence, visitation schedules, and potential custody. Whether you’re considering relocating with your children or objecting to the move, it is imperative to seek the guidance and support of an experienced family law attorney.

At Sarah Henry Law, we are here to help you understand what all of your options are. Our goal is always to get you the best results while efficiently using your time and money and reducing stress. Call us today at 864-478-8324 or fill out this form to request a consultation with one of our compassionate, experienced family law attorneys.

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