The short answer to the question, “Can my child decide custody? Is “no”. Florida Legislature updated the term “custody” with the term “parental responsibility”, and the term “visitation” has been updated with the term “time-sharing”. With that said, the court may consider the wishes of the child, along with a host of other issues, when determining the parental responsibility and time-sharing schedule for you and your child.
Parental responsibility and time-sharing determinations occur in a number of different ways. Many divorcing couples agree to a Parenting Plan, which includes parental responsibility and time-sharing issues. Some parents agree to a Parenting Plan early in the process. Other couples may reach an agreement after working with their family law attorneys for the time that it takes to reach an agreement. However, in some instances, the couple cannot reach an agreement on parenting issues. In those situations, the Court will decide the parental responsibility and time-sharing schedules for parent and child, based on what is in the best interest of the child.
Factors Courts ConsiderWithParental Responsibility and Time-sharing Schedules
When determining parental responsibility and a time-sharing schedule, the courts are bound by Florida statutes. The Court must consider the best interests of each individual child of the marriage or paternity case. A child’s best interests are determined by considering factors that affect the child and the family. Florida statutes provide a non-exclusive list of factors for the court to consider, including:
- A parent’s demonstrated ability and willingness to encourage a good relationship with the other parent, honor the time-sharing schedule, and be reasonable;
- The extent either parent may designate parenting responsibilities to others;
- The ability and willingness to address the needs of the child first;
- The length of a child’s past stable living environment and the desire for continuity;
- Each home’s nearness to a child’s school;
- A parent’s moral fitness;
- Mental and physical health of each parent;
- A child’s home, school, and community record;
- “The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.”
- Each parent’s awareness of the child’s friends, schooling, medical providers, daily activities, etc.;
- Each parent’s ability and willingness to provide routine;
- A willingness and ability to communicate with the other parent about the child and maintain a unified front on major issues;
- Evidence of physical or sexual abuse;
- Evidence a parent misrepresented prior abuse or neglect to the court;
- Parental responsibilities prior to and during the divorce;
- The parent’s ability and willingness to involve themselves in the child’s school and extracurricular activities;
- A substance abuse free environment;
- A parent’s ability and willingness to protect the child from pending litigation or negative remarks about the other parent;
- The developmental needs of the child and a parent’s ability to provide for same; as well as
- Any other factor the court deems appropriate.
Courts, Not the Child, Decide Parental Responsibility and Time-sharing Schedules
As you can see, a child’s preference is one of 19 clearly identified factors. The court must decide the child is sufficiently intelligent, understands what they are asking for, and has the experience necessary to formulate an opinion. The court will also examine whether the request is motivated by a desire to punish one parent or the other. Courts also seek to determine if the request was motivated by pressure from one of the parents. Finally, even where the child legitimately expresses a preference, without undue influence, courts, not the child decide parental responsibility and time-sharing schedules.
In Florida, the state’s public policy favors frequent and ongoing contact with both parents. Florida encourages parents “to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing.” Therefore, the courts review the factors with an eye towards shared parenting responsibilities unless this would be detrimental to the child.
Standing alone, a child’s stated preference will not be enough to sway the court to award parental responsibility and time-sharing to one parent over the other. Instead, the court will look at the entire picture.
If You are Considering Divorce
If you are considering divorce and have a child or children with your spouse, you need an experienced and knowledgeable child custody attorney on your side. At The Law Office of Eric C. Cheshire, P.A., we work to provide solutions that are in the best interest of you and your family. Contact us today at 561-295-3693 to discuss your family’s needs.