Can I leave my child alone? Should I leave my child alone?
Parents with a child custody order may wonder about the answers to these questions. They may wonder what parents are allowed to do under their custody order. They may wonder if it will be used against them if they decide to leave the child alone.
Child custody laws can be complex. Our South Carolina child custody lawyers explain unattended child laws and how they apply to custody cases.
What Is South Carolina’s Unattended Child Law?
South Carolina does not have an unattended child law. There is no certain age where a child can be left alone. However, there is non-binding guidance that a child should never be left alone until they are at least 9 years-old. Older children may be left alone for increasing periods of time but should always be able to keep in contact with a parent. A parent responsible for a child who is inappropriately left unattended may face child neglect charges under S.C. Code §63-5-70.
Whether a child should be left alone depends on the circumstances. Under S.C. Code § 63-5-70, any person who has custody of a child may be guilty of a 10-year felony offense if they place the child at unreasonable risk of harm or willfully abandon the child.
Factors to Consider When Determining if a Child Should Be Left Alone
Whether a child should be left alone depends on many factors. Here are some of the things that you should consider when evaluating whether your child should be left alone:
- The age of the child
- Maturity and functioning of the child
- Whether the child will be responsible for cooking or they will be left overnight
- Environment the child will be left in – whether they will be left at home or somewhere else
- If the doors can be locked and who else has access to the premises
- What ways the child can reach out for help if they need it; access to a first aid kit
- Whether the child knows what to do if someone approaches
- Dangers the child may be exposed to in the home like weapons
- Whether severe weather or other unusual events are expected
- If a child would be responsible for taking care of pets
- How long the child will be left alone
How Can Leaving a Child Alone Impact Child Custody?
Like most custody issues, the answer to whether leaving a child alone can impact child custody is, it depends. Child custody is awarded based on the best interests of the child given the evidence presented at the court’s hearing.
S.C. Code § 63-15-240 allows the court to consider several factors when it decides the best interests of the child. Factors that may be related to leaving the child alone are:
- The developmental needs of the child
- Whether the parent can understand and meet the needs of the child
- Whether the child is bothered by being left alone
- Stability and whether the current arrangement allows for stability
- Neglect that may have occurred from a child being left alone
- Other factors
Leaving a child alone can impact child custody. It just depends on exactly what happened, what other circumstances are present, and how the circumstances impact the welfare of the child.
For example, a parent leaves a 12-year-old child at home for an hour to go to the store. This could be seen as acceptable and not a grounds to modify child custody.
A parent leaves a 6-year-old alone for 10 hours at a time while they go to work. This occurs three times a week. This may be grounds to review a custody order. Another example may be a parent leaving a 13-year-old alone for an entire weekend while they go on vacation.
Changing Child Custody Because a Parent Leaves a Child Alone
When it comes to changing child custody because a parent leaves a child alone, it makes a difference whether the custody order is being established for the first time or already in place. Courts are less likely to change child custody orders over what they perceive as a minor dispute or a small issue.
To modify child custody in South Carolina, there must be a substantial change in material circumstances since the court’s last order, and the change must impact the child’s best interests. It’s a high burden to meet. The party moving for the change in custody must show how the child being left alone poses a danger to their health and well-being.
Changing a Visitation or Parenting Time Order and the Right of First Refusal
When creating custody and visitation orders, South Carolina law allows the court to impose any condition necessary for the safety of the child. The court may address a child being left alone in a couple of different ways. First, they may order that the parent does not leave the child alone. They may allow the parent to make other arrangements during their parenting time.
Alternatively, the court may order what’s called a right of first refusal. That means if the parent is unable to care for the child personally for a period, they must offer the other parent to assume care of the child until they can return. Parents can agree to have this condition in their custody and visitation order. The court may also modify the visitation schedule to coincide with work schedules, or take any other steps that may end the need for the child to be left alone.
Attorneys for Custody and Visitation When a Child is Left Alone
Custody and visitation orders are highly specific. There is no situation like yours, so your situation must be evaluated personally. Leaving a child alone may be grounds for modification of custody.
However, there are no definitive rules for when it is enough to prompt a change. There may be multiple right ways to address the situation including moving to modify custody, changing visitation, or asking for conditions of parenting time that address what is happening.
The best way to know your options is to talk with our child custody lawyers at Bannister, Wyatt & Stalvey. We are happy to give you a detailed consultation and candid information about your case. Contact us today.