If you are the parent or caregiver of a minor child you undoubtedly feel as though your relationship with the child exists because of the love you have for the child without regard for your legal status. In the United States, however, your legal standing with regard to your custodial relationship with a child does matter for a number of reasons. If you are raising a child that is not your biological child, therefore, it is important that you establish some type of legal custody over the child. As you consider your legal options, you may wonder “ How is adoption different than other types of custody such as guardianship or custody? ”
It is not uncommon for someone other than a child’s biological parent to be raising the child. In fact, grandparents, aunts and uncles, or siblings often end up taking over as the day to day caregiver for a child because the child’s biological parent is unable, or unwilling, to raise the child. If you find yourself in this situation you will soon find that the law requires you to establish some type of legal custody over the child. Something is mundane as taking the child to a check-up at the doctor can become a problem if you have not established legal custody over the child. Should there be an emergency, such as the need for surgery, you may find that you don’t have the legal authority necessary to consent to the needed treatment. Likewise, when the child is old enough to enroll in school, you may find that you cannot enroll the child because you lack the legal standing to do so.
In South Carolina, there are several different options that will provide you with the necessary legal standing to make decisions and do all the other things a parent does. Legal custody is a legal status awarded by a family court judge, typically as part of a divorce proceeding. Though the court typically favors the biological parent over a non-parent when deciding custody, the court will award custody to a nonparent if doing so is in the best interests of the child. If you have custody of a child the biological parents retain their parental rights and responsibilities with the child, including the right to visitation if the court agrees; however, the child will live with you.
Guardianship is similar to custody in that the biological parents retain their parental rights and responsibilities to the child; however, guardianship is a separate proceeding, independent from a divorce or any other proceedings. You may petition for temporary or permanent guardianship at any time through the Family Court.
Finally, adoption is the most permanent and complete form of custody. In order to adopt a child, the biological parents must either relinquish their parental rights voluntarily or a court must terminate them involuntarily. If you adopt a child the child becomes your child, takes your last name, and may inherit from you just as your biological children can. The parent retain no rights to visitation or decision making with regard to the child but also have no obligation to support the child once you have adopted the child.
If you have additional questions or concerns about custody or adoption in South Carolina, contact the experienced South Carolina family law attorneys at Kuhn & Kuhn Law Firm by calling 843-577-3700 to schedule your appointment.