Grandparents Rights in South Carolina
Generally, parents have a fundamental right to be in their children’s lives, but what about the grandparents? It can be heartbreaking for a grandparent to be cut off from the children that they have come to know and love.
Whether the parents are divorced, and hold animosity towards the other side, or were never married and don’t see the value in having grandparents involved, there can be legal implications to keeping children away from these relatives.
In the past, grandparents’ rights in South Carolina were sparse. As of 2014, that changed with a new law that makes it much easier for grandparents to obtain a court-order allowing visitation with their grandchildren.
These are still emotionally-charged and complex cases. The Cate Law Firm is a full-service South Carolina family law firm that can help you resolve these issues by fighting for your legal right to visitation and even custody of grandchildren when appropriate.
Grandparent Visitation Rights – A Long Fought Battle
In the past, South Carolina required that grandparents have a relationship with their grandchildren that was equivalent to that of a parent-child bond to pursue visitation rights. Few grandparents could meet this litmus test.
The tide turned for grandparent visitation rights nationwide with the 2000 Supreme Court case Troxel v. Granville. The highest court in the land ruled that parents have a fundamental right to make decisions regarding the custody, care, and control of their children.
Following this ruling, the state of South Carolina amended its grandparent visitation statute to include the requirement that grandparents have “standing.” Under this new statute, grandparents can sue for visitation rights if either of these two conditions apply:
- The child’s parents are divorced and/or living apart
- One or both child’s parents are deceased
Grandparents that can exercise their rights must be either the natural or adoptive parent of the child in question’s parent. According to South Carolina law, the grandparent must be able to prove that the parent, or parents, is unreasonably denying them access to their grandchildren, which includes a denial of visitation for at least 90 days.
The grandparent must also be able to show the court that an award of visitation rights with their grandchild will not interfere with the existing parent-child relationship. Lastly, the grandparent will have to prove that the court’s presumption of the parent’s decision to withhold access is unsound. Either the parent is unfit, or there are other circumstances present to account for such behavior.
Fighting for Custody of Grandchildren in South Carolina
As a grandparent, you may also be in a situation in which you want or need to fight for custody of your grandchildren. This can be an uphill battle, but it is not impossible with the right family law attorney in your corner.
First, you must be able to clearly establish that you are the “de facto guardian” of your grandchild. This involves showing several things:
- You are the child’s primary caretaker and means of financial support; and
- The child has already lived with you for a defined period. For children under three years of age, grandparents must show that the child has resided with them for a minimum of six months. For children older than three, the grandparent must prove that a child has lived with them for at least one year. Only after this period has lapsed can a grandparent file a petition for custody.
Once the court determines that you are the de facto guardian of your grandchildren, it will then consider custody. The South Carolina family law court may award custody to a grandparent if there is clear and convincing evidence presented that shows at least one of two clear things:
- The child’s parents are unfit; or
- There is other compelling evidence present that justifies a decision.
What is considered an unfit parent in the eyes of the court? As a grandparent, you have the burden to prove that either your own child, your grandchild’s other parent, or both are unfit for any of the following reasons:
- One or both parents have been emotionally or physically abusive or have neglected the child;
- One or both parents are addicted to alcohol or drugs;
- One or both parents have put the child in danger repeatedly; or
- One or both parents have made poor decisions about child rearing repeatedly.
Proving Grandparent’s Visitation and Custody Cases
These are often difficult cases to prove and emotional ones to fight. A grandparent that must show an established relationship with their grandchildren should spend as much time as possible gathering evidence. This might include photos and other documentation of time spent together to present to the court.
In cases where a grandparent is requesting custody or alleging abuse or neglect, there is a chance that the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS) has already been involved with the family. This could provide additional evidence but could also complicate custodianship matters. You are advised to seek the advice of a qualified family law attorney before moving forward.
Your South Carolina Attorneys for Grandparents’ Rights
Most state laws, including South Carolina’s, favor the rights of parents over grandparents. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have any right to your grandchildren. Provided you meet certain criteria and can prove your case, you may be able to obtain an order for grandparent visitation. If circumstances are particularly dire, you may also be successful in getting custody of grandchildren.
These are not simple cases. They are complex legal matters that are generally packed with emotion. Yet, as more and more grandparents are stepping forward to fill a void in the lives of their grandchildren, the courts are becoming savvier, and they understand these situations.
The seasoned family law attorneys at The Cate Law Firm can guide you through this process, answering your questions, and thoroughly outlining your legal options. We understand that your grandchildren are a precious part of your family and will do everything possible to handle your case with compassion and sensitivity.
Contact our Spartanburg office now at 864-585-4226 or reach out to us online to schedule your initial consultation.