Florida Child Custody Proceedings—How Children’s Preferences May Affect the Outcome

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Among the numerous challenges that arise when a couple separates or divorces, the issue of child custody often proves the most contentious. Splitting up the furniture and other possessions is difficult enough, but the powerful emotional bond between parent and child can make child custody decisions exceptionally tumultuous.

Whether negotiated by the parents or established by court order, family law judges in Florida strive to base their final legal decisions on the child’s best interests. While the “reasonable preference of the child” is one factor judges may consider in assessing the child’s best interests, Florida statutes list 19 other factors that judges need to consider in their decision-making. Thus, the weight a judge gives to a child’s preference in the matter is determined in part by the other parameters and the child’s maturity and intelligence.

The family law lawyers at Tallahassee-based Cowhey + Ward Attorneys at Law understand how emotionally wrenching child custody cases can be. With extensive experience in child custody cases, Cowhey + Ward has developed a stellar reputation for negotiating workable shared parenting plans. When child custody is contested, our lawyers have proven success in helping clients secure favorable child custody terms in court. Read on to learn more about child custody in Florida and how the child’s preference may play a role in child custody decisions.

Factors Judges Assess in Child Custody Decision-Making

With the “best interest of the child” serving as the heart of Florida child custody law, judges approve child share agreements or make custody decisions in court based on 20 parameters detailed in the statutes. Because every child custody case differs, a judge’s weight on each parameter often varies to reach an overall subjective determination on the child’s best interest. Some of the factors that are among the most likely to carry significant weight include:

  • Willingness of a parent to place the child’s needs over their own.
  • Mental or physical health issues that could impair parental care abilities.
  • Moral fitness of each parent.
  • Evidence from either parent relating to drug use, violence, neglect, or abuse.
  • Demonstrated evidence of parental involvement in the child’s schooling and extracurricular activities.
  • Demonstrated ability to provide the child with a consistent routine.
  • The child’s developmental stage and parental ability to foster continued stable development.
  • Whether the child may be best served by continuity in their current living arrangement.
  • Demonstrated capacity of a parent’s willingness and ability to work with the other parent to ensure the effectiveness of the child share plan.
  • Geographic viability.
  • The reasonable preference of the child.

When Does the Court Consider the Child’s Preference?

Florida child custody judges rarely award sole parental responsibility to a parent based on a child’s preference because Florida child custody statutes promote shared parental responsibilities and “frequent and continuing contact with both parents.” Florida law does not set a specific age at which a judge should consider the child’s preference in custody arrangements and instead relies on judicial discretion. In determining the weight of a child’s preference, judges typically consider:

  • The intellectual ability of the child to make such decisions.
  • The emotional capability to make such decisions.
  • The child’s clear understanding of the consequences of choosing one parent over the other.
  • The child’s experience with each parent.
  • Whether the child’s decision-making may have been unduly influenced by one of the parents.

How to Secure the Best Outcome in Your Child Custody Case

If you’re facing the challenge of determining child custody due to separation or divorce, seek the services of a skilled child custody lawyer to secure the most favorable results. A competent child custody lawyer can help you negotiate a workable child sharing plan with your former spouse or, if custody is contested, work in the courtroom towards securing the best child custody terms possible. To learn more about how Cowhey + Ward can help you successfully resolve all child custody issues, contact our Tallahassee-based office today at (850) 222-1000.

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