Going through a divorce is hard enough on its own, but having to make difficult decisions about who children should live with makes it even harder. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the divorce rate in Florida is considerably above the national average with 3 per 1,000 population compared with only 2.3 nationwide. This means even more families are having to tackle these difficult issues.
If you’re going through a divorce with children—especially if they’re older—you may be asking yourself, “Can a child determine which parent they want to live with?” The answer is not always so clear-cut, and the best way to truly understand what factors are at play is by working with an experienced family law attorney who can evaluate the specifics of your situation.
If you’re in the Orlando, Florida, area or anywhere throughout Central Florida, including Kissimmee, Winter Park, and Maitland, reach out to the legal team at Veliz Katz Law for any questions you have about divorce or child custody determination.
Child Custody in Florida
When a married couple with children divorces in Florida, they must decide how to split custody. This is broken down into two categories: parenting time and parental responsibility.
Parenting time refers to the actual days and time period the child will spend with each parent, and although it’s ideal that each parent gets an equal amount of time, this can be split up however the couple or judge sees fit. One factor that could affect parenting time is where each parent lives and how this relates to the child’s educational needs. If the parents live far away from one another, it may make it hard to achieve 50/50 parenting time if it means a long drive to and from home or school.
The second category of custody is called parental responsibility, and this refers to who will make major decisions on behalf of the child, such as educational, medical, religious, or legal issues. This responsibility can be shared (joint custody) or assigned to just one parent (sole custody). Importantly, even if one parent is awarded sole custody in terms of decision-making, the two parents can still split parenting time equally. Alternatively, it’s possible for one parent to have more physical time with their child but for both parents to have a joint say in major decisions.
How Is Custody Determined in Florida?
Ideally, custody and parenting time determination is decided by the couple. When the couple is able to reach a decision, it will be passed along to a judge who will have to approve it. If the couple cannot decide, then they must use mediation or have a judge decide. In all scenarios, the best interests of the child are the number one priority, and whenever possible, it’s preferable for the child to have regular and frequent contact with each parent. Some people falsely believe that the mother is given preference in such matters, but the truth is both parents are treated equally unless there’s a clear indication that the child would be in danger with one parent.
When deciding custody matters, a judge will look at several factors, including how old the child is, the educational and health needs of the child, the ability of each parent to provide a stable home, the willingness of each parent to foster and support a relationship with the other, where each parent’s home is physically located, and in some cases, the preferences of the child. However, in this last case, there are a number of considerations to be made, and one of the most common questions divorcing parents ask is, “At what age can a child choose which parent to live with?”
In some instances, a judge will take into account the child’s preferences when deciding custody and visitation rights, and the major factor in this is the child’s level of maturity. Although this is somewhat predicated on how old they are, there is no official age a child must be before they can offer their opinion. Instead, a judge will look holistically at the family and the child to gauge their intelligence and their understanding of the outcomes of their decision.
The judge will also ensure that the child has enough experience with each parent so they’re making an informed decision and not simply rebelling against one or the other. In some cases, a judge will allow a child to testify in court. In other cases, they’ll appoint a mental health professional to interview the child privately and then testify on their behalf as to their preferences.
However, even though a judge may listen to the child and consider their preferences, this will not be the only deciding factor. In general, the older and more mature a child is, the more likely a judge will be to give their preferences weight.
Turn to Veliz Katz Law
If you’re going through a divorce with children and want to speak with an experienced child custody lawyer, schedule a consultation today with Veliz Katz Law in Orlando, Florida.