Popular media and popular gossip have combined over the years to convince many South Carolina residents that they understand how child custody agreements work.

Even though most parents in South Carolina know that custody is one of the most contentious divorce issues, many assume that they can simply figure it out – or that the court will side with one parent over the other no matter what they do.

Like all other potential divorce issues, child custody disputes are easiest to resolve when you know the facts. Here are five common myths about South Carolina custody law and the truths behind them:

“Judges always award custody to the mother.”

Under South Carolina child custody law, judges cannot automatically award custody to either the mother or the father. Instead, the judge must award custody based on the “best interests of the child.” This standard requires the judge to weigh 17 different factors, including the child’s developmental needs, the ability of each parent to fulfill those needs, the relationship the child has with each parent, and the wishes of the child and the parents as to custody.

“Visitation is only on weekends – and maybe a couple weeks in the summer.”

South Carolina has no specific visitation schedule that is required by law. Instead, visitation or “parenting time” is determined by the Court, based on the child’s individual needs and the ability of each parent to provide for those needs. Visitation schedules may change as the child grows to accommodate changes in schedule, family vacations, summer camps and sports, and other events.

“We can’t change our child custody order. We’re stuck with it.”

Child custody Orders in South Carolina can be modified based on a substantial change in circumstances. A substantial change in circumstances may include the custodial parent’s failure to meet the needs of a child, significant changes in the parents’ work schedule making the custodial arrangement unfeasible, relocation to another State, or other events or circumstances that significantly impact the welfare of the minor child. It can be tough to realize that the court has made a mistake in creating your current custody Order, but this frustration should never stop you from trying to modify that order to better suit the needs of your child.

“If my child lives with me more of the time, I get to make the major decisions.”

Child custody in South Carolina can be thought of as having two “sides” or categories: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody deals with where the child lives and which parent takes care of the child the majority of the time. Legal custody determines whether a parent or both parents make the major decisions for the child, including decisions about schooling, religious training, and medical needs. When both parents have legal custody, the power to make major decisions is shared equally between them. This is true no matter how much time the child spends with each parent.

“I don’t need a lawyer to help me with my child custody arrangements.”

This is not only untrue, it can result in untold heartache and struggle for you and your child. Child custody involves a number of complicated legal and factual issues. To ensure that your child has the best possible chance for a good upbringing and a stable custody arrangement, you need the help of a thoughtful and hard-working South Carolina child custody attorney. Your family law attorney will help you protect your legal rights and fight for the best possible arrangement for your child.