Whether you’re divorcing, have been divorced for some time, or you were never married, if you’re asking, “At what age can a child choose custody in Florida?” we want you to know that this is a very common question for parents to ask at some point.
Ideally, child custody is a non-issue and the parents can work together to make a decision that is in their children's best interests, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes, both parents want their children to live with them most of the time. If you’re in this predicament, continue reading as we explain how a child’s wishes impact such a custody dispute among parents.
Best Interests of the Child
Before we dig deeper into a child’s wishes, it’s important to note that the court's primary concern is the best interests of the child, which is not necessarily what the child wants. For instance, a teenage boy may prefer to live with his father because he’s away on business five days out of the week. Or, a 10-year-old girl may prefer her mother who has a serious substance abuse problem because she feels like she needs to “watch” her mom and make sure she’s okay, but that’s not what’s in the daughter’s best interests.
Whenever there is a dispute over child custody, the court will carefully examine a variety of factors, such as:
- The age and health of each parent.
- Each parent’s ability to care for the child.
- Each parent’s willingness to encourage a relationship with the child and their other parent.
- How the division of parental responsibilities may be in the future.
- Where each parent lives in relation to the child’s school and their other activities.
- Each parent’s willingness to stay in communication with the other parent about the child and their activities.
- Each parent’s moral fitness to be a parent and do the right thing.
- Each parent’s ability to provide a regular and consistent routine for the children regarding school, homework, meals, bedtime, etc.
- Any history of substance abuse or domestic violence.
- Any history of lying about the other parent being abusive or neglectful.
- The child’s wishes, assuming the child is intelligent and mature enough to voice their opinion with a rational understanding of what their preference means.
In Florida, there is no “specific age” in which a judge will consider a child’s preference – it is handled on a case-by-case basis. Instead, Florida judges use their own discretion and it basically comes down to whether the child is intelligent and mature enough and whether the child truly understands the weight and effects of their decision.
Even though a judge may consider a child’s preference, it’s rare for a judge to make a decision based on the child’s wishes alone. Generally, the judge will consider the totality of the circumstances and will factor in the child’s preference when making a decision. When there is more than one child, the judge may even make an independent decision for each child if and when it makes sense to split custody.
If you need legal assistance with a child custody matter, contact The Law Office of Schuttler, Greenberg & Mullins at (561) 336-6082.