Can A Child In Florida Choose Which Parent To Live With?
The following article will discuss whether children who reside in Florida are able to choose which parent they prefer to live with in custody battles.
The “best interest of the child” standard
In the state of Florida, family court judges determine child custody and child support issues based on the “best interest of the child” standard. This means that these judges, in making specific decisions relating to the child, will always consider whether these decisions would be in the child’s best interest. Florida Statute § 61.13 specifically provides the criteria that judges consider in determining whether a decision related to child custody would be in a child’s best interest. One of these criteria includes the child’s wishes regarding who he or she wants to live with.
Do children get to dictate where they live?
A child’s wishes regarding which parent he or she wants to live with is not a controlling factor in child custody cases. However, it is a relevant factor that judges will consider, along with the various other factors that speak to what decision is in the child’s best interest. For example, if a child wishes to live with her father but the judge has been presented with evidence of the father’s severe drug use around the child, the child’s wishes will likely not be adhered to, as living with her father is probably not in her best interest.
At what age is a child allowed to express his parental preference to a judge?
In Florida, there is no minimum age that a child has to be in order to express his or her wishes regarding parental placement. Rather, before allowing the child to express his wishes, a judge will determine the relative maturity of the child by assessing some of the following factors: whether the child is intelligent enough to make such a choice; whether the child understands the decision he or she is making; and whether the child has enough experience with each parent so that the decision is a meaningful one.
Can a parent force a child to speak in court regarding his parental preferences?
Neither the child’s parents nor the parents’ respective attorneys can force a child to express his wishes concerning which parent he prefers to live with. Additionally, a judge will almost never force a child to testify regarding their preferences. In some cases, a judge can appoint a licensed mental health professional or another expert to interview the child, who can later testify to the court about the child’s desires. Additionally, the child may also speak with a guardian ad litem (a person the court appoints to represent the best interests of a child), who will later testify on the child’s behalf. Lastly, a judge may choose to speak directly with a child in chambers, outside the presence of the parents, where the child’s testimony will be recorded by a court reporter.
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