This is the first post in a series of articles discussing when Florida courts will defer to the wishes of a child regarding custody and visitation with their parents. We are asked this question often by clients who are going through a divorce or wish to modify an existing custody arrangement. There are several misconceptions about a “magic age” at which a child can express a preference that will be honored by the court in such matters. The goal of this series is to explain when and how a child’s wishes impact custody arrangements. Another objective is to encourage parents to discuss their specific situations with an experienced family attorney to understand their legal rights. If you need assistance, contact our office today to speak with a lawyer.
This series will address the following topics:
- At what age can a child refuse visitation in Florida?
- When the court take a child’s preference into account
- Challenging a parent’s request that the court defer to a child’s discretion
- How a parent should handle their child’s refusal to see their co-parent
We felt it was important to address this issue because it is commonly raised by parents during a custody dispute. Many Florida parents believe that when a child reaches a certain age or maturity level, they will have the ability to “choose” which parent they live with or visit and when they will do so. It is important to understand that a child’s preference is only one of multiple factors that a judge will consider when evaluating what custody schedule is in the child’s best interest. There is no legally mandated age at which a child can decide with whom to live. Furthermore, even when a child’s wishes are factored into a judge’s decision, they are typically not given the option to refuse to visit their other parent on that basis alone. In some instances, the court will overrule the child’s parental preference if the choice is deemed not to be in their best interest. It is possible, for instance, to challenge a request to change custody based on a kid’s opinion if the choice is obviously self-serving, such as selecting the parent with looser rules. We will also address how a parent should handle their child’s refusal to comply with a custody order.
Because every situation is different and the ultimate decision will be based on the judge’s review of all relevant facts, we cannot overemphasize the importance of reviewing your case with an attorney before initiating legal action. Doing so can help ensure that your issues are properly presented to the court. If you need assistance, contact our Melbourne office to speak with a lawyer today. 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.