Amended Visitation Statute in South Carolina

Amended Visitation Statute in South Carolina is a Step in the Right Direction for Grandparents

Historically in the State of South Carolina, grandparents seeking visitation with their grandchildren against the objection of the parents faced an uphill battle. The Supreme Court’s 2000 decision in Troxel v. Granville affirmed that parents have a protected constitutional right to raise their children as they see fit, and therefore a parent’s child-rearing decisions are presumed to be in the child’s best interests. That includes the decision to limit or prohibit visitation with the child’s grandparents. Following the Supreme Court ruling, in 2003 the South Carolina Supreme Court in Camburn v. Smith found that visitation could not be awarded to grandparents over the objection of “fit” parents because of this presumption. Grandparents were required to meet a high burden in showing that either (a) the parents are unfit by clear and convincing evidence, or (b) there are “compelling circumstances” that support an order of grandparent visitation. Such compelling circumstances include, but are not limited to issues involving:

1.      Significant harm to the child;

2.      Child’s adjustment to home, school, community; or

3.      Physical and mental health of the child.

South Carolina lawmakers passed a new Grandparents Visitation Statute in 2010 aligned with these court decisions, allowing court-ordered grandparent visitation only if a list of narrow and burdensome requirements could be met. There is no doubt that it has become increasingly difficult for grandparents in South Carolina to persuade the state to inject itself into the private family realm, disregard the child-rearing decisions of the parents, and to decide on its own that grandparent visitation is in the best interests of the child. However, a recent amendment to South Carolina law is working to change the tides, if only a little bit, in favor of our grandparents.

Recent Amendment to the Grandparent Visitation Statute

On June 9, 2014 South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed bill H4348, amending S.C. Code 63-3-530(A)(33), also known as the Grandparent Visitation Statute. The new law authorizes the family courts “to order visitation for the grandparent of a minor child where either or both parents of the minor child is or are deceased, or are divorced, or are living separate and apart in different habitats, if the court finds that:

1.      the child’s parents or guardians are unreasonably depriving the grandparent of the opportunity to visit with the child, including denying visitation of the minor child to the grandparent for a period exceeding 90 days; and

2.      awarding grandparent visitation would not interfere with the parent-child relationship; and:

(a)    the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the child’s parents or guardians are unfit; or

(b)    the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that there are compelling circumstances to overcome the presumption that the parental decision is in the child’s best interest.”

The new law facilitates court-ordered visitation for grandparents with their grandchildren by recognizing the importance of this close familial relationship. The heightened burdens have been chipped away at, and grandparents now have an opportunity to successfully gain visitation with their grandchildren, furthering the overarching objective: the best interests of the child.

Contact a Charleston Family Law Attorney Today

While parents are critical members of a child’s family, grandparents are also instrumental to a child’s sense of security, love, and family. Grandparents have rights, too, when it comes to maintaining relationships with their grandchildren. For more information about grandparent rights in South Carolina, contact our experienced family law attorneys today.