This is the next post in a series of articles discussing how a child’s preferences about living arrangements may impact custody matters in Melbourne, Florida. Our previous post addressed a common question asked by many parents: “at what age can a child refuse visitation with their parent?” The answer is that there is no magic age at which the Court will blindly defer to a child’s wishes in such matters. Depending upon the age and maturity level, the child’s preference may be one of several factors the Court reviews in determining what arrangement serves the best interest of the child. In this article, we will review when the Court will and will not consider the opinion of a child in custody matters. If you need assistance, contact our office to schedule a consultation with a family attorney.
As with all child custody and visitation decisions, Florida Judges will evaluate what arrangement is in the young person’s best interest. In Florida, as in most other states, this analysis involves multiple factors, including the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of the child, the ability to maintain relationships with both parents, living conditions, etc. One such factor may, in certain cases, include the specific preferences of a child. For obvious reasons, Courts do not require a child to become directly involved in their parents’ legal proceedings and generally avoid placing kids in the position of having to “choose” between their mother or father in such cases. When appropriate, however, the child’s preference regarding living arrangements may also be considered as a part of the overall evaluation. The significance placed upon the child’s wishes will depend largely upon both their age and maturity level. For instance, if a mother and father are divorcing within a couple of years of their child’s high school graduation and one parent is relocating out of state, the child’s preference to remain at the same school may be an important factor in the court’s custody decision. The situation may be viewed differently if the child is eight at the time of the divorce and lacks the maturity or decision-making skills to express a rational opinion on the matter.
Under a variety of circumstances, the Court may disregard the child’s preferred custody outcome because the choice does not reflect what may be in their best interest. For instance, if the child’s choice is clearly based upon unhealthy or immature reasoning, such as preferring to stay with a parent who doesn’t supervise them or allows them to break the rules, the Court may ignore their preference. Other reasons to ignore a child’s expressed preference may include evidence that their choice resulted from parental coaching or undue pressure or influence. The Court does not look favorably on one parent’s attempt to interfere with the other parent’s relationship with the child. Evidence of coaching or bribing a child to “choose against” the other parent may backfire and, in some cases, result in reduced custody or visitation for the pressuring parent. As with other legal proceedings, a parent opposing the reliance upon a child’s choice may present objective evidence demonstrating the existence of such problems.
Disagreements about custody matters can be stressful and complicated. Our office has experience representing parents in such matters and is ready to assist you. Contact our Melbourne office today to speak with an attorney. 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.