This is the next post in a series of articles discussing when Melbourne, Florida Courts will defer to the wishes of a child regarding custody and visitation with their parents. Our previous post provided an overview of the topics to be discussed throughout this series. It also encouraged parents with concerns about child custody and visitation to contact an attorney quickly in order to understand their rights. In this article, we will address a common question we receive from clients: “At what age can a child refuse visitation with their parent?” For a variety of reasons, it is not uncommon for a child to convey their opinion on this topic at some point. This article will explore the answer to this question generally, however, parents should consult with a lawyer to obtain specific legal advice applicable to their situation. If you need assistance, contact our office today to speak with an attorney.
The simple answer to the question posed above is that there is no legally defined age at which a child’s wishes about custody and visitation will be honored. Judges will not simply defer to the preferences of a minor in making such determinations. The child’s input may be considered as part of a multi-factor analysis used by the Court to decide what arrangement is in the child’s best interest. Depending upon the age and maturity level of the minor and the reasoning behind their preference, their opinion may be an influential factor, but will still be one element in the Court’s overall analysis. If a high school senior, for example, wants to stay with her mom through the week so she can work nearby after school while visiting her dad on the weekends, the Court may decide such an arrangement is in her best interest. On the other hand, if the Judge determines that she really wants to stay with her mother because there are more relaxed rules at her house or the choice is otherwise not in her best interest, it may be disregarded. In either case, absent extenuating circumstances, the Court will generally continue to impose some level of visitation time with the other parent.
This situation is not just limited to extreme cases and is often driven by practical concerns that arise between parents who share custody. Consider the following examples. Mom and dad share custody of a high school junior. Per their child custody arrangement, Mom has primary custody during the school year and the teenager visits his dad, who lives across the country, for six weeks every summer. The child is an “A” student and a star athlete who has been asked to attend an exclusive football camp at a prestigious college during the summer but his dad refuses to grant permission to change his scheduled visit. Mom seeks permission from the Court to alter the arrangement. In light of his age and demonstrated maturity level, the Judge may, depending on all of the circumstances, determine that the exception is in the child’s best interest. Now suppose, the same child refuses to visit his father because he did not want to be away from his girlfriend in Florida for six weeks. The Judge will likely view the basis for the boy’s preference as irresponsible or immature. As a result, his desire to skip visits may be disregarded and the original schedule enforced.
It is important for parents in such situations to understand that they are ultimately responsible for complying with an existing custody order. This can be difficult when older children “refuse” to comply. Consulting with a family attorney can help you understand your rights and responsibilities. Our Melbourne attorneys are ready to assist you. Contact us today to speak with a lawyer. We also serve the cities of Titusville, Cocoa, Palm Bay, Grant, Valkaria, and Rockledge, as well as in the Indian River County areas of Fellsmere, Sebastian, Vero Beach, Indian River Shores, and Orchid.