Splitting Parental Responsibilities in Florida

Before discussing how your child’s preference can impact custody hearings, you should first understand the possible outcomes and how custody decisions are made. Florida refers to child custody as the division of parental responsibilities or time-sharing. When divorcing parents can’t agree on where the child should live or with whom, the judge will decide at trial.

Parenting Time

Physical custody in Florida is known as “parenting time” or “time sharing.” This is the amount of time the child spends with each parent. Florida law states a child must have “frequent and continuing contact with both parents,” so it is rare that parenting time is awarded to just one parent. One parent will be appointed the custodial parent and the other the non-custodial parent, even in cases where parenting time is shared equally.

Parental Responsibility

Parental responsibility refers to each parent’s input on decisions regarding the child’s education, medical care, and extracurricular activities. Judges commonly grant both parents legal custody over a child so they have an equal say in their child’s upbringing.

Child’s Opinion in a Florida Custody Decision

Your child’s wishes will be considered in some cases depending on their maturity, but there is no specific age where they’re considered mature. If more than one child is involved, a judge will decide for each child individually.

The judge will evaluate the child’s ability to choose on a case-by-case basis.

A judge will decide whether the child:

  • is intelligent enough to make such a decision
  • understands the decision they are making
  • has enough experience with each parent to make a meaningful decision

While your child’s preference will be considered by the judge, their decision won’t be based solely on the child’s opinion. However, it will be considered along with all the other influencing factors.

A Child’s Best Interests in Florida

In addition to considering the child’s preference, the judge will make a child custody decision based on the child’s needs. According to Florida Statute 61.13, the judge will consider factors such as:

  • division of parental responsibilities
  • the child’s ties to their town, school, and community
  • the child’s developmental age, needs, and abilities
  • each parent’s physical and mental health
  • each parent’s ability to provide the child with a consistent routine
  • location of each parent’s home and how distance would impact their ability to honor the time-sharing schedule
  • evidence of a parent’s history of violence, substance abuse, or neglect
  • each parent’s ability to provide a safe and stable environment for the child

“Moral fitness” is also a factor in custody cases. This involves a parent’s behaviors or conditions that could negatively impact a child’s character development, such as substance abuse, criminal history, or psychological issues.

Can Children Testify in Court?

Children cannot be forced to testify in court by an attorney or pressured by parents. A court will only allow a child to testify in an emergency or if their testimony is absolutely necessary. However, judges can hear a child’s opinion out of court in the following ways:

  • A mental health professional, guardian ad litem, or another expert can interview the child and testify to the court about the child’s desires.
  • The judge may privately speak directly with a child in chambers. A court reporter will also be present to record the child’s statements so the judge can use their testimony in their custody decision.

Questions about Child Custody? Call 941 Law Help Today

If your child expressed a desire to live with you or the other parent during divorce proceedings, you may not know what to do next. Seek the advice of an experienced Florida family lawyer who can help you navigate the matter and ensure your child’s wishes are balanced with their best interest.

Attorney Michael Fayard will hear your story, explain your options, and help you decide the best path forward for your family. If you have questions about your child’s preferences in custody proceedings, contact 941 Law Help today.

Call 941-265-2733 today or fill out our contact form to get started today.