A dispute over custody of a child is one of the most stressful and grueling processes that Charleston divorce lawyers can help their clients face. While child custody disputes are often difficult enough between a divorcing couple, two individuals who are not married and have a child between them can add an extra layer of complexity to an already complex situation.
What Does the Law Say?
S.C. Code Ann. § 63-17-20(B)(2009) provides that, absent an order from the court stating to the contrary, the natural mother of a child born to unwed parents will retain sole custody, unless the mother has given up her rights to the child.
What Can a Father Do?
The above-referenced statute does not mean that the father does not have an opportunity to gain custody or seek rights of visitation. If paternity of the child is acknowledged by the father or has been established in a court proceeding, an unwed father may petition in Family Court for rights of visitation or for custody of the child. Should an unwed father decide to seek custody of a child, no legal presumption in favor of the mother’s custody arises or is taken into consideration by the court. Both parents of the child will be “on equal footing” when it comes to court actions for the determination of custody. The biggest factor that a judge will consider in determining custody of a child between unwed parents is the same as any other determination of custody, i.e., a determination as to what is in the best interests of the child.
What Else Can a Father Do?
The State of South Carolina has enacted the Responsible Fathers Registry in an effort to help responsible fathers stay in the life of a child he fathered with a woman to whom he is not married. This registry is intended to notify potential fathers when an adoption or a termination of parental rights action occurs concerning his child. Any man who is already a father or is expected to be a father and is not married to the child’s mother may register. Only a father may register, someone may not register on his behalf.
If we can assist you either in gaining or preserving custody of your child, please do not hesitate to contact our Charleston divorce lawyers.