It's a feeling experienced by many custodial parents in South Carolina: frustration at the failure of the non-custodial parent to pay child support in a timely manner. The payments might be sporadic or even nonexistent. Either way, it can cause real financial stress waiting on money from your former spouse. One typical response to such late payment is to consider withholding the other parent's visitation. If they can't pay for the child, why should they get to spend time with them, right? Wrong.
So what is the interaction between visitation and child support in South Carolina? It's critical to understand that in South Carolina, visitation is not conditioned on payment of child support. That means that if you are a custodial parent, and your non-custodial co-parent is in arrears on his or her child support obligation, it is not appropriate for you to deny that parent visitation.
Although there are some states that make visitation contingent on child support payments, South Carolina is not one of them. In South Carolina, visitation is viewed as a for the benefit of the children. The state's Supreme Court clearly held in Garris v. Cook that a noncustodial parent's obligation to pay child support is independent and separate from that parent's right to visitation with the children. In fact, if a custodial parent does withhold visitation in reaction to a non-custodial parent's failure to pay child support, the custodial parent may risk being found in contempt of court for failure to follow the court's order concerning visitation.
In Garris, the Court was clear that the ruling meant that a parent could not withhold visitation to force payment of child support. However, the opposite is also true. The non-custodial parent cannot withhold child support because the custodial parent has denied visitation. If you have questions about custody or visitation, please contact our experienced South Carolina family law attorneys who are there to answer your questions.