Hi Kris, I’m very sorry you are going through a challenging circumstance with your child’s father and balancing your work/academic life on top of that.
I am licensed to practice law in PA and have mediated many family court disputes like yours in New England. Without advising you (I am not familiar with SC or FL’s state specific laws nor am I licensed to practice there) I can definitely give you a few thoughts and resource suggestions.
First off, your instinct (and that of other commenters in this thread) is right about the court clerk. Clerks are very limited to providing legal information (giving forms, giving names of cases, giving public records) but they are not allowed to provide legal advice (telling you how a case applies to your situation, giving you answers that involve legal advice, interpreting the law). Although it is possible that the clerk gave you information that is correct, I would not accept it as accurate or definitive, and it may even consitute an unauthorized practice of law which is a totally separate issue.
Next, and this is the mediator in me speaking, I would try to find a non-legal solution to your situation. From what you described it sounds like in general you and your child’s father have agreed to split the costs of travel. Because of your child’s age, your transportation circumstances, and your child’s father’s insistence on driving, I think it is entirely reasonable to offer to pay for half of the gas if dad agrees to drive the entire way. I do understand that your economic circumstances might not allow that possibility, but it sounded to me like you were hoping not to involve the courts so this is one way to do that. It’s worth a shot to discuss this option with your father’s child (and preferably reduce it to writing in an email or text so that you have some evidence of the offer). Of course, your child’s father might be uncooperative but it’s still important to try to work together to reach an agreeable resolution.
Given that you already spoke with your family law professor, it sounds like you know what you should do in order to protect your rights, which is to file a petition to modify. Because SC has jurisdiction over the court order I am not sure whether a FL petition to modify is enforceable in SC. Still, I would follow your law professor’s advice and acquire those documents from the clerk just in case to file the petition pro se, on your own behalf. There should be no reason for the clerk to give you trouble.
Finally to answer your last question about including a name change in the modification, and again given your financial circumstances, I would suggest you seek out other options for obtaining state specific legal advice. Some options might include a local law school’s family law clinic or mediation clinic, pro bono legal aid or legal services in FL (your local bar association should be able to refer you to local legal aid), or a mediation referral in family court if that court offers court appointed mediator services (some states have this, but not all).
Good luck, chin up, and props to you for working hard to reach your goals.