In South Carolina, a petitioner may ask the court to terminate a parent’s rights if “[t]he child has lived outside the home of either parent for a period of six months, and during that time the parent has wilfully failed to support the child. Failure to support means that the parent has failed to make a material contribution to the child’s care.”
The statute goes on to state that “[a] material contribution consists of either financial contributions according to the parent’s means or contributions of food, clothing, shelter, or other necessities for the care of the child according to the parent’s means. The court may consider all relevant circumstances in determining whether or not the parent has wilfully failed to support the child, including requests for support by custodian and the ability of the parent to provide support.”
When a court determines whether a contribution is material or not, the court not only determines the means or income the parent has to support the child; the court also determines how the parent is spending her income. One example can be found in recent case law where the Supreme Court of South Carolina mentioned the mother spent an estimated fifty dollars per month to care for her dogs. The Supreme Court stated that “[t]his monthly expense constitutes a large sum of money the mother could have instead provided [for the] child.”
The Supreme Court also stated in its opinion that “[a]lthough mother had no independent source of income, occasionally providing child with food, drinks, medicine, diapers, wipes, and toys would not be considered a material contribution.”
In another case, the Family Court found that a mother spending $3,600.00 per year for cigarettes when she was only giving the occasional contribution of clothes and school supplies totaling about $200.00 annually was a material issue in determining whether the mother wilfully failed to support the child.
What I have gleaned from the Supreme Court opinion and the Family Court ruling is that when attempting to terminate a parent’s rights pay as much attention to the parent’s spending habits as you pay to the parent’s income. I believe this balancing comes from the statement in the statute “according to the parent’s means.” The court is not going to terminate a parent’s rights because she is poor; the court will terminate a parent’s rights if she is not supporting her child while she feigns poor.