Do Children Have A Say in Custody?
Deciding with whom a child will live, and what the visitation rights of the other parent will be, as the result of a divorce, can be the most challenging aspect of separation. Not only are parents often concerned with ensuring that they are able to preserve their relationship with the child, but there may also be concerns regarding the wellbeing of the child, as divorce can have serious emotional and psychological ramifications for a young person.
While parents may not want to put their child in the middle of a custody dispute by asking the child which parent the child would prefer to live with, parents may also be equally curious about the child’s preferences and whether children even have a say in the custody conversation in Florida.
Factors Considered for Custody Decisions in Florida
Custody decisions in Florida are based on a number of different factors, which are found in Florida Statutes Section 61.13(3). While the court may consider the reasonable preferences of the child, other factors that a court will look at include:
- Each parent’s willingness to foster a relationship between the child and the other parent;
- Geographic factors (each parent’s address in relationship to the child’s school, etc.);
- The “moral fitness” of the parents;
- The health of all parties involved;
- The capacity of each parent to create a stable environment and provide for the child’s needs;
- Any evidence of domestic violence or neglect; and
- Any other factors that the court finds relevant
How Much Weight Does the Court Give to a Child’s Preference?
How much weight a court gives to a child’s preference will vary on a case by case basis. In fact, while Florida law does not name a specific age at which a child’s opinion will be considered, the law does read that the reasonable preferences of the child will be considered dependent upon the child being found to have “sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.” This means that depending upon your child’s age, maturity, and development, the court may not consider your child’s opinion at all, whereas, in other situations, the court may hear your child’s opinion, and take it into consideration very seriously. It all depends on the level of understanding that the court feels your child has in the matter.
Reaching a Child Custody Arrangement that Is In Your Child’s Best Interest
When you’re getting divorced and working with your spouse to reach a custody arrangement that works for everyone, your child’s preferences are indeed something that you and your spouse may want to consider. However, rather than putting your child in the middle of a custody battle, reaching an out-of-court arrangement is almost always preferable. The benefits of reaching a parenting agreement out of court include:
- Less contention – Going to court can be a very emotional process that is contentious and hard for everyone involved, especially a child;
- Less expensive – If you can avoid going to court, you should – court and lawyers’ fees can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars;
- Less time – If you are ready to have your divorce finalized, working with your spouse to reach an out-of-court agreement will be a faster process; and
- More input – No one wants a judge to tell them how much time they’re going to be able to spend with their child – when you and your spouse work together to determine this, you’ll likely end up with a parenting plan that you’re more comfortable with.
Call Our Law Offices Today
At the law offices of Whibbs Stone Barnett, P.A., we know that reaching an agreement regarding custody of a child can be an extremely challenging thing for parents to go through. Our lawyers can guide you through creation of a parent plan, and can also represent you during mediation, negotiations, or even litigation.
To schedule a consultation with our Florida family law attorneys today, please call us at 1-888-219-4561, send us an email, or drop by our office in person. We look forward to helping you.