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CAN MY CHILD CHOOSE WHICH PARENT THEY WANT TO LIVE WITH DURING A FLORIDA CHILD CUSTODY CASE?

One of the most common questions that an Orlando Child Custody Attorney will hear is, “Can my child choose which parent they want to live with?”. The answer is “No” but deserves a little more clarification. The Florida Family court looks at many factors when deciding child custody. The bottom line, however, is what is in the best interest of the child. Unfortunately, their desires and their best interests do not always go hand in hand.

Florida Statute Section 61.13 Lists the Factors that a Court Must Consider in Determining Child Custody Issues:

Florida Statue Section 61.13 lists the factors that a court must consider in determining the best interest of the child in a child custody case.  The factors are not exclusive and give the court the discretion to review any other factor or circumstance that are unique to the best interest of the children that are the subject of the child custody case.  The list of factors is provided below and include a provision for the “reasonable preference” of the child.  The factors set forth in Florida Section 61.13 in determining custody are:

(a) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required.

(b) The anticipated division of parental responsibilities after the litigation, including the extent to which parental responsibilities will be delegated to third parties.

(c) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent.

(d) The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity.

(e) The geographic viability of the parenting plan, with special attention paid to the needs of school-age children and the amount of time to be spent traveling to effectuate the parenting plan. This factor does not create a presumption for or against relocation of either parent with a child.

(f) The moral fitness of the parents.

(g) The mental and physical health of the parents.

(h) The home, school, and community record of the child.

(i) The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.

(j) The demonstrated knowledge, capacity, and disposition of each parent to be informed of the circumstances of the minor child, including, but not limited to, the child’s friends, teachers, medical care providers, daily activities, and favorite things.

(k) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline, and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime.

(l) The demonstrated capacity of each parent to communicate with and keep the other parent informed of issues and activities regarding the minor child, and the willingness of each parent to adopt a unified front on all major issues when dealing with the child.

(m) Evidence of domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, regardless of whether a prior or pending action relating to those issues has been brought. If the court accepts evidence of prior or pending actions regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect, the court must specifically acknowledge in writing that such evidence was considered when evaluating the best interests of the child.

(n) Evidence that either parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding any prior or pending action regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.

(o) The particular parenting tasks customarily performed by each parent and the division of parental responsibilities before the institution of litigation and during the pending litigation, including the extent to which parenting responsibilities were undertaken by third parties.

(p) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to participate and be involved in the child’s school and extracurricular activities.

(q) The demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to maintain an environment for the child which is free from substance abuse.

(r) The capacity and disposition of each parent to protect the child from the ongoing litigation as demonstrated by not discussing the litigation with the child, not sharing documents or electronic media related to the litigation with the child, and refraining from disparaging comments about the other parent to the child.

(s) The developmental stages and needs of the child and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to meet the child’s developmental needs.

(t) Any other factor that is relevant to the determination of a specific parenting plan, including the time-sharing schedule.

Children Can Not Make Their Own Custody Choices

Your Orlando Child Custody Attorney will explain that under Florida Law, children are not able to make their own custody choices. As previously stated, the court will decide the child’s best interest only after reviewing all of the relevant factors of the case; such as suitability of the parents, the home, and each parents’ financial stability. Criminal histories are also weighed during the proceedings. The courts understand that children can be opposed to change and if they consistently lived with one parent, regardless of any negative situations, they may want to continue that placement. The child can disagree with the court ruling and, at the age of 18 may decide to change their living arrangements. Before their 18th birthday, however, that decision remains in the hands of the court.

Taking a Child’s Desires into Account

  There is no given age as to when the court may consider the wants of a child. The child needs to be mature enough to express their desires in an informed manner. He/she must also be able to give valid testimony, appropriately expressing reasons for his/her preferences. Furthermore, the child will need to be able to distinguish the difference between being honest and dishonest so that the court can be sure they understand the obligation of their oath to tell the truth. In some cases, children may have no input until they reach adulthood. If you are considering calling your child as a witness in your child custody case, you will need to discuss with your child custody attorney about the need to file a motion with the court that will allow the minor child to testify in a proceeding.

Contact an Orlando Child Custody Attorney to Have Your Child’s Voice Heard

Call one of our Orlando Child Custody Attorneys today to ensure your child’s voice is heard in the proceedings.  When experiencing issues in the area of child custody, seek assistance from your Orlando Child Custody Attorney to ensure not only that your child’s best interests are served, but that your rights are also being protected throughout your proceedings.   Call our office today at (800) 822-5170 to schedule your consultation.

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