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When Can a Child Express Preference for Custody in Florida?

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Deciding how children split their time between parents is one of the most emotionally trying aspects of a divorce. If the parents cannot decide how to split the time, the judge will make the decision for them.

As children grow older, they may develop an idea of with which parent they would like to spend the majority of their time. This begs the question of when children have the right to choose a primary parent with which to live.  The short answer is that, a child is never empowered to make a decision between parents which, the decision alone, is binding on the courts.  However, as the child gets older, and if the child is of sufficient maturity, the child’s preference may become one of the factors (among many) the Court could consider.

Below you’ll find an explanation of how a child’s preference could impact custody rulings in the state of Florida.

How Courts Determine Timesharing

When parents cannot determine how to split parenting time, the judge will look at a variety of different factors. The parents must present evidence on their own behalf, but the court ultimately draws up a timesharing schedule.

The following are some of the factors that will come into play when determining what in the child’s best interest (please note the below list is not all-encompassing):

  • Willingness of each parent to put the child’s needs before his or her own desires;
  • Willingness of each parent to keep the other parent up-to-date on the child’s life;
  • Willingness of each parent to honor court rulings;
  • The physical and mental health of each parent;
  • Evidence of violence and neglect from each parent;
  • The role each parent currently plays in the child’s life; and
  • The child’s involvement in the school and the community.

 The judge may consider a variety of other factors related to the fitness of each parent.

A Child’s Right to Choose

Florida does not set a specific age at which a child may choose a parent with which to live. Instead, the judge may evaluate the child’s intelligence and capacity to make a decision. The child should have enough experience with each parent to make a meaningful decision. By way of example, if the child has not seen one parent for 10 years, the judge may not honor the child’s choice to live with that parent.

Each child is different and develops the maturity to make sound choices at different rates. Even if the judge decides the child is intelligent and mature enough to make a decision, the judge is not required to honor it. However, even if the judge takes the child’s preference into consideration, it only serves as one of the many factors to be considered by the court. For example, a teenager may at some point choose to rebel against the current custodial parent, choosing to live with the “fun” parent, where there is less structure and discipline. The judge may, therefore, choose to take less seriously the child’s preference for the other parent.

If there is more than one child involved, the judge may make different decisions for each of the children, based on the same criteria mentioned above.

Consult a Florida Family Law Attorney

The best way to make sure the courts make a fair decision for you and your child is to hire an experienced Boca Raton parenting support attorney. There is no way to predict what the court may decide, but an attorney can help you prepare your case. The judge may consider your child’s preference, but only after evaluating the validity the child’s decision. To find out how we can help you, contact the Law Offices of David L. Hirschberg, P.A.

leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0000-0099/0061/Sections/0061.13.html

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