All 50 states have now enacted custody legislation that refers to the "best interests of the child." When they have to make decisions about child custody, judges are supposed to be guided by a checklist of optimum conditions for the child and decide which parent best meets the requirements of each. The checklists vary somewhat from state to state. South Carolina's checklist can be found under Chapter 3 of the Code of Laws for South Carolina. They leave a lot open to the interpretation and discretion of a judge.
Best Interests of the Child
South Carolina is one of only a few states that will consider religious issues when deciding a child's best interest. Judges will also weigh the circumstances of each parent, including earnings ability, lifestyle and amount of time available to nurture the child. Exposure to domestic violence is considered detrimental to a child, so if either parent has a history of this--even if it is against a partner and not the child--South Carolina law allows a judge to deny him custody. Under Section 63-15-40 of South Carolina's Code of Laws, if a parent flees the home because he is a victim of domestic violence and if he must leave his children behind to do so, this cannot be held against him in a custody dispute.
Tender Years Doctrine
The Tender Years Doctrine is the belief that only a mother can adequately care for an infant or very young child. South Carolina has abolished this from its laws. However, if parents have never been married, then South Carolina does consider the mother to have sole custody unless, and until, the father petitions the court to change that status quo.
Under Section 63-15-30 of South Carolina's Code of Laws, a judge may take into consideration which parent a child wants to live with if the judge feels the child is mature enough to make such a decision and the logic behind her choice is reasonable.
Grandparents may ask the court to order visitation with their grandchildren in South Carolina. Withholding visitation because a parent isn't paying child support is considered as serious as failure to pay child support--both are punishable by a judge.
For a judge's custody order to be changed, one of the parents must return to court and prove there has been a significant change in circumstances so that the terms of the order are no longer in the child's best interests. A judge may also modify an existing order if the custodial parent is habitually and consistently denying visitation to the other parent. A judge can change custody or simply order makeup visitation time.
Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act
South Carolina has adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). A parent may not file for custody here until she and her child have lived in the state for six months. In the interim, the other parent has the right to file for custody in whatever state the child used to live in. If he does, that state would have jurisdiction according to the terms of the UCCJEA unless for some reason the state waived jurisdiction to South Carolina.