Unmarried Parents with a Multi-State Custody Dispute - What Could Go Wrong?

Chapter 1 –  Will the Police go get my Child from the Other Parent?

I picked up the phone Friday afternoon, never suspecting there was a law school exam question on the other end of the line.  OK, not really.  It was my nephew Adam[1]. With what he thought was a simple inquiry.

“If I call the police and tell them Jennifer kidnapped Carter, will they go get him?”

Adam and his girlfriend Jennifer became the proud parents of little Carter last August.   They all live in Raleigh, NC – or they did, last time I checked – where Adam works in IT. 

“Do you know where Jennifer and Carter are?” I asked.

“Yeah.  They’re at her parents’ house in Greenville.”

“Where they’ve been since before Christmas?”

“Yeah.  It’s a long story.  The Cliffs Notes version is that Jennifer called two weeks ago, told me she’s realized she made a big mistake, and she needed the support of family to help her raise her son.  Emphasis on ‘her. son.’ 

So she says she’s not coming back to North Carolina, and neither is Carter.  I’m welcome to come visit Carter anytime – so long as she or her mom are around to supervise, and as long as I don’t try to take Carter out of the house.  Oh, and I should plan to keep visits to less than two hours because, yanno, everyone’s on a schedule.”

“Oh, boy.”

“Right.  So can I send the police to her mom’s house to get my son?”

“Nope.  In South Carolina, the mother has one hundred percent custody of a child born to unmarried parents. [See SC Code 63-17-20(B)] You don’t have any rights to custody or even to visitation, unless and until a family court judge issues an order granting you some.”

“So I should’ve listened to you and married her?”

“Well, yes.  But even if you had, the police still wouldn’t go get him.  If you were married, you’d each have equal rights to custody.  [See SC Code 63-5-30].  So the police wouldn’t go take the child from one of you and give him to the other.   You need a family court order saying who gets to have Carter and when.”

“Fine.  Can I be my own attorney?”

“Can I build a motherboard?”

“Not successfully.  OK, point taken.  But you can file a custody case.  Will you be my attorney?”

“I’m licensed to practice in South Carolina.  I practice in Dillon, Marlboro, Marion, and Horry Counties.  Your case needs to be filed either in Greenville County, SC or Wake County, NC.”

“So that’s a ‘no’?”

“That’s an ‘I’ll help you figure out where you need to file and we’ll go from there.’  But to do that, I need lots more information, and I hear my 2:00 appointment coming up the steps.  Call me later, and we’ll talk about jurisdiction, venue, and the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (S.C. Code 63-15-300, et sequitur).” 

“Et what?”

To be continued.



[1] I don’t really have a nephew Adam.  Everyone in this story is a figment of my imagination.  I wanted to blog about custody issues, and I’d always rather tell a story than write an essay.  Any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental and unintended.

Sally Peace