Florida is no different than other states when it comes to child custody: They are strictly focused on the best interests of the child and nothing more. But, you may wonder if your child can express his or her preference during a custody hearing – and if the courts will consider that preference when making a decision. For custody disputes involving younger children, the courts and parents will need to decide where they live. But, the state of Florida does recognize a child’s preference – as long as specific requirements are met.
How Custody Decisions Work in the State of Florida
When parents cannot agree on a custody arrangement or how visitations will be split amongst both parties, the judge will follow the statute and make a decision based on the child’s age and what is best for him or her. The judge will also consider evidence from both sides when developing a parenting plan – though it should be noted that most judges default to the standard parent time schedule dictated in the statute.
Some things that the judge will consider when deviating from the standard parent time schedule include:
- The parents’ willingness to honor the time-sharing schedule;
- How parents will keep one another informed;
- Each parent’s physical and mental health;
- The parent’s “moral fitness;”
- The child’s home, school, and overall community/neighborhood history;
- The parents’ knowledge in the child’s activities – including sports;
- The length of time the child has resided at the current residence;
- The parents’ willingness to consider the child’s needs over their own;
- Parenting tasks that each parent performed prior to the split;
- The child’s preference.
When the Courts Will Consider a Child’s Preference
Florida does not have a set age in their statutes when it comes to a child’s preference. That being said, judges will use their discretion to determine if a child is of adequate age to pick and choose his or her custodians and/or visitation schedule. The judge will consider the child’s intelligence, maturity, and whether he or she fully comprehends the consequences of the decision.
In most cases, judges look for the age of 10 years or more before allowing a child’s preference to become a factor in custody. That being said, a child at 10 years may not be mature enough to fully understand the decision, and a judge may require that the child be older.
The judge will also consider the other factors and evidence provided when listening to a child’s preference. Also, the judge will need to determine if the child is making an intelligent decision or simply making the choice based on rebellion against one parent. They will also investigate if one parent has influenced the child in the decision – such as coaching the child to request less visitation with the other parent.
Will My Child Have to Testify?
One concern that parents may have is whether their child must testify in open court in front of the other parent. In Florida, no one can force the child to testify or even get involved in the family court litigation. The court only allows a child to testify at his or her own free will. The courts have other options for obtaining the child’s preference as well, such as hiring a mental health professional to interview the child, or having the child speak with a guardian ad litem.
Beller & Bustamante, P.L. – A Florida Family Law Attorney You Can Trust
Are you going through a custody battle with your spouse? Does your child express his or her concern about which parent to will live with? The child custody attorneys at Beller & Bustamante, P.L. are recognized as the authority in custody and other family law matters in the state of Florida. If you would like to speak with an attorney regarding your child’s preference or visitation, please call us at (904) 288-4414 or request your consultation online today.