What Role Does a Child’s Preference Play in Florida Time-Sharing Cases?
In Florida, family law courts are directed to adhere to the best interests of the child standard when making time-sharing and child visitation determinations. One of the factors used in deciding what type of arrangement would be in a minor’s best interests is the child’s opinion on where he or she would like to live. There are limitations to this factor, however, in which case, the court will look to other elements when making their decision, so if your child wants to live with you and you have questions about whether his or her testimony can be used in court, you should contact an experienced Florida child visitation and time-sharing attorney who can explain Florida’s legal procedures and standards.
The Reasonable Preference of the Child
Under state law, Florida family law judges are often permitted to take a child’s opinion into consideration when attempting to create a time-sharing arrangement. However, this is only possible if a court deems a specific child to be of sufficient intelligence, experience, and understanding to actually express a reasoned preference. Whether a child’s preference is reasonable depends on the child’s age, but also his or her motivation for expressing a preference. If, for instance, a child wants to live with one parent over another because that parent’s residence is closer to a girlfriend’s home, a court would be unlikely to take the child’s wishes into account. A court would be more likely, on the other hand, to take a child’s wishes into consideration if the opinion is based on a desire to remain in the same home where his or her siblings live.
In determining whether a child’s preference is reasonable, courts also evaluate a specific child’s ability to express a preference. While age often plays a role in maturity, some children of a young age, whether due to experience or their own personalities, are mature beyond their years. For this reason, courts have shied away from making an age based rule when it comes to child testimony. Instead, judges are directed to examine the unique aspects of each child on a case by case basis.
Modifying a Time-Sharing Arrangement
Although courts will modify existing time-sharing awards, they will only do so if a substantial change in circumstances justifies the modification. While a child’s preference, on its own, will not usually serve as the only grounds for modifying an order, there are situations when a child’s preference could play a significant role in modification proceedings. In fact, state law actually requires that courts take into account a child’s preference in contested relocation proceedings, in addition to a variety of other factors. Similarly, if a child is much older at the time of the modification proceedings than he or she was when the initial decree was issued, a judge may be more willing to adjust a time-sharing agreement to reflect those changes.
Contact Our Time-Sharing Legal Team for Help
To speak with a Fort Lauderdale child visitation and time-sharing lawyer, please call Sandra Bonfiglio, P.A. at 954-945-7591 or send us an online message today.