Child custody agreements are enough of a challenge. There are intense emotions on both sides and differing viewpoints of how the future should look, at times resulting in tension and spite.
One tool some parents use in a child custody battle is an Order of Protection. Orders of Protection are immensely valuable to those who have been victims of abuse or assault, and can help that parent and their child feel safe. Orders of Protection are also at times used as a way to gain sole custody or prevent the other parent from seeing the child.
In either case, Orders of Protection tend to affect child custody agreements. If you are in the midst of determining a child custody agreement or you are considering filing an Order of Protection, these six important pieces of information can save you a lot of confusion and heartache.
1. Child custody is determined primarily by the “best interests of the child.”
The “best interests of the child” is what family court uses to determine which custody agreement will serve a child best in terms of safety, stability, and general well-being. A judge will typically consider the following factors:
- The age of the child
- The ability of the parent to meet the child’s needs
- Potential changes in the child’s routine
- The child’s safety
The child is the top priority of the court system, and therefore every effort is made to ensure consistency in the child’s life.
2. Both parents have equal rights to the child.
South Carolina law views both parents of the child as equal guardians. That means they have equal responsibility for that child and equal rights when it comes to participating in the child’s life. They have the same access to all of the child’s records, medical or educational, and the same rights to make decisions regarding those matters.
As parents make a custody agreement, a judge will enforce that equal responsibility of the parents and usually issue restraints against parents with custody of the child. This includes intoxication or abusing drugs in the presence of the child, talking poorly of the other parent, or exposing the child to members of the opposite sex not related by blood overnight.
3. An Order of Protection connects abuse to serious legal consequences.
The purpose of an Order of Protection is to stop an abuser from committing harm, and if the behavior continues, there will be legal ramifications. An Order of Protection protects the person who filed it from domestic violence by demanding the other party does not come within a certain distance or does not enter specified locations such as a school, their home, or their place of work.
Once filed, parties must abide by the Order of Protection until the hearing date. At the hearing, both parties will be able to state their side.
4. Parent-to-Parent Orders of Protection do not impact Child Custody.
In many cases, one parent files an Order of Protection against the other parent. Joint custody in this situation remains possible.
Though there is a chance the accused parent may spend less time with the child, its greatest impact is on how the child is moved between houses. The parents will need to involve a neutral third party to transport the child back and forth, or conduct drop offs and pick ups at a police station. Parents will not be able to attend the child’s activities together and may not be able to contact each other regarding the child.
5. Orders of Protection on behalf of the child will impact Child Custody.
When a parent files an Order of Protection on behalf of the child, this immediately takes the place of the custody agreement until a hearing is completed. The child remains with this parent or a separate relative for this time. During that time, the accused parent may not have contact with the child, or else they are violating the law.
Emotions run high during divorce proceedings and, at times, one parent will file an Order of Protection to prevent the other parent from seeing the child. However, filing such an order out of spite, and without unsafe circumstances to protect against, will hurt that parent’s own custody.
6. It is imperative to follow the Order of Protection to maintain Child Custody.
If you have been accused through an Order of Protection, whether or not the claims are founded, you must adhere to the restrictions. Neglecting to follow them will result in legal consequences.
As you wait for the hearing, gather evidence (phone calls, texts, etc) to support your case if it has been filed with poor intentions. When the hearing date does arrive, be sure to appear in court. All of these actions will prove your character and help to regain custody.
Reaching a child custody agreement is an already complex and emotional process that becomes magnified when an Order of Protection is involved. If you are considering filing an Order of Protection against your former spouse, either on behalf of you or your child, or you have had one filed against you, contact a family law attorney to help you navigate the situation.