Child Preference in Custody Proceedings
In Florida, custody determinations are made based on the child’s best interests. When the children involved are infants or very young, their parents and the courts will have to decide custody issues such as the child’s primary residence. But when children grow older, develop preferences, and are able to provide more input, their opinions are taken into account when determining parenting time. If you are involved in a custody proceeding in Florida, an attorney can help you reach an arrangement that is best for your family.Child’s Best Interests
In Florida, custody proceedings involve the creation of a parenting plan, which includes a timesharing schedule that states where a child lives and how much time each parent may spend with the child. When parents cannot come to an agreement regarding the creation of a timesharing schedule, the court makes that determination based on the child’s best interests. To determine the child’s best interests, the court will consider several factors, one of which is the child’s preference, as long as the court believes that the child has the intelligence, understanding, and experience to develop meaningful opinions on the matter.Intelligence, Understanding, and Experience
There is no set age at which a child will be old enough for his or her preference to be considered in custody matters. Rather, the judge has discretion to decide whether a child has the intelligence to make a choice, understands the decision he or she is making, and has enough experience with each parent to make sure the decision is educated and meaningful.
Courts have decided that a ten year old was too young for input to be considered, but have also decided that an eleven year old was sufficiently intelligent and articulate. The determination will depend on the individual child and the circumstances of each family.
The court must ensure that one parent is not unfairly influencing the child’s opinion by coaching the child to give certain answers. Courts must also make sure that the child is making a mature decision, rather than just rebelling against one parent.Multiple-Child Families
The court will make an independent decision for every child, even for those in the same family. Courts will not assign custody of a young child to one parent simply because the child’s older siblings prefer living with that parent. Instead, the court must independently determine what would be in the young child’s best interests.Testimony in Court
Neither parents nor attorneys can force a child to testify in court. In Florida, a child will only be permitted to testify if it absolutely necessary to hear the child’s testimony, or if there is an emergency. It is Florida policy to insulate children as much as possible from family law litigation.
However, to consider a child’s preference, the court must know what that preference is. To get the child’s preference, a licensed mental health professional or other expert can interview the child. That professional can then testify in court as to the child’s expressed opinions. A guardian ad litem, which is a person appointed by the court to represent a child’s best interests, may also speak to the child, then testify in court. Alternately, the judge may speak with the child in chambers, without the parents present. A court recorder must be present to write down the child’s statements.
If you are involved in a child custody matter, please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.