Divorce can be especially hard on children because they are often confused by the process and have little control over what is happening. As children get older, they understand more, which ultimately makes the lack of control even more frustrating. However, there are situations where children can voice where they would like to live in the divorce context, giving them a say in aspects of the divorce that specifically affect them.
Factors Judges Consider in Awarding Custody
If the parties cannot agree on custody, then the court will make the decision for them. The Judge will take a variety of factors into account when making this decision. Ultimately, the decision will focus on what is in the best interest of the child. This process often includes an examination of several factors, including:
- A parent’s willingness to put their child first above their own needs
- The parent’s mental and physical health
- The community in which the child lives
- The parent’s willingness to adhere to the assigned visitation and custody a schedule
- The relationship between the parents
- The parent’s involvement in the child’s education and healthcare
- A parent’s general responsibility levels
- The parent’s ability to provide for their child regarding housing, food, and clothing
- Any evidence of abuse, violence, or neglect
The judge will also consider the child’s preference and where he or she would like to live. However, this preference is just one of many factors that affect the judge’s decision. In some situations, the child may not put forth his or her opinion, and the judge may not ask. This is particularly true in cases where other factors weigh heavily in favor of one parent over the other.
When Children Express Their Living Preference
In Florida, there is no set age where a court must consider the child’s preference. This is unlike other states that have a particular age provided for in family law statutes.
In Florida, the judge will take into account the child’s preference if he or she considers the child to be experienced and intelligent enough to make a reasonable decision. That means that as a child gets older, the judge is more likely to consider his or her opinion. Nonetheless, a child can only definitively make their own decision about where to live if they have reached the age of majority or have become emancipated under Florida law.
As a rule, judges are more likely to consider a child’s opinion once the child has reached age 12. However, this is not a bright line, and judges can make their own decisions based on the unique circumstances of the case. Again, even if the child expresses a preference, it is simply another factor that the judge will consider in the overall decision-making process regarding custody.
In many situations, it may be a good idea to work out custody arrangements between the parents that fit with the child’s desires. That way the parties can design a custody arrangement that meets their needs instead of relying on the court to make a decision for them. This cooperative decision-making process is not always easy, however. Having a family law attorney to negotiate on your side can be an extremely valuable resource. Contact our firm today to find out more about how we can help with this process.