Does the Child’s Preference Matter in Boca Raton Child Custody Cases?
One of the most contentious and stressful issues in any divorce – for both parents and children - is determining child custody, or time-sharing, as it is called in Florida. For the parents, the thought of not being with their children full-time can sometimes cause them to second guess their decision to divorce. Children are faced not only with having to split their time between two households, but also the possibility of having to switch schools or move to a new town, possibly even a new state. The stress, anxiety and uncertainty can leave many children with strong opinions regarding the parent he wants to live with. But does Florida allow a child’s preference to factor into the court’s decision?
Best Interests and Child Preference in Boca Raton Child Custody Cases
When creating a time-sharing schedule in a divorce, the court must consider what arrangement is in the child’s best interests. There are a number of factors the court must consider, one of which is the “reasonable preference” of the child preference, if the court determines that the child has “sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference.”
Unlike some states, Florida law does not state a specific age at which a child’s preference must be taken into consideration. This means that whether or not the child’s preference is considered, and how much weight that preference is given, is at the judge’s sole discretion. It is important to remember that even if the court considers the child’s preference, it is not the deciding factor. Instead, it is just one of many the court must consider.
So while it is safe to assume that the wishes of a very young child would be given no weight, whether a child’s intelligence, understanding and experience is sufficient to cause the judge to consider the child’s preference will depend in large part on the rationale behind that preference.
For example, consider the case of a 15-year-old boy who is the star player on his high school basketball team and is already being looked at by college scouts. His mother is planning on moving to a small town three hours away, and the local high school has no basketball team. The father, on the other hand, plans to remain in the family home, which would allow the boy to remain at his current high school. The court would likely place great weight on the child’s preference in this situation, because moving with his mother would cause a greater disruption in the boy’s life and adversely affect his long-term prospects of playing college basketball.
On the other hand, consider the 16-year-old girl who states that she does not wish to live with her father because his curfew is too early, he does not let her drive with her friends in the car and made her give up cheerleading because she received failing grades. The court would be unlikely to give the girl’s preference any weight because they indicate a clear lack of maturity and no understanding of the role of a parent.
How an Experienced Boca Raton Child Custody Attorney Can Help
Divorce is stressful. Factor in child custody issues – particularly where the child has expressed a preference for which parent he wants to live with - and the stress level doubles. With more than 50 years’ combined experience, the Boca Raton child custody attorneys at Schwartz | White understand the emotions that run through any child custody case. We approach all of our clients with compassion and sensitivity, and our goal is to help make the process of creating a time-sharing agreement as painless as possible, for both you and your children. Contact our office at 561.391.9943, or complete our convenient web form, to schedule an appointment with an attorney today.